Metrics key to IT success, say MPs

Public Accounts Committee report identifies post-project reviews and senior responsible owners as key to ensuring value from government IT projects

Only a minority of government IT projects are taking steps to measure whether they are delivering on their targets, according to a report published this week by the Public Accounts Committee.

The public spending watchdog's report, Delivering successful IT-enabled business change, includes examples of government business-change projects that have been underpinned by IT. But it notes that only a third of those IT projects that have delivered against expectations have analysed how they achieved their aims.

On current estimates, the government is spending between £12bn and £14bn a year on new or existing IT and related services, as it bids to deliver improvements in areas such as health, education, and law and order.

"The risks are high and, given a history of past failures, government departments need the structures and management processes to secure greater success in IT-enabled programmes and projects," says the report.

However, it warns that most projects do not complete Gate 5 of the government's Gateway IT-project review process. It is this stage which assesses how departments have benefited from the IT investment.

The report says that work on the Payment Modernisation Programme, which covers the payment of social security benefits direct to claimants' bank accounts, shows that by regularly reviewing IT projects after completion, and setting up dedicated teams responsible for ensuring that the project delivers, the government could get better value for money on IT investments.

Public Accounts Committee chairman Edward Leigh, says, "Not all major government IT projects end up on the rocks - as the successful Payment Modernisation Programme and Pension Credit scheme have shown. If more large IT projects are to be similarly successful, departments will have to understand what was done to make things go right."

Figures in the report show that up to June last year, only a third of IT-enabled programmes and projects completed a Gate 5 review within a year of delivering the project.

To improve on this, government departments should appoint a senior manager to ensure that Gate 5 reviews occur within a year of a project becoming ready for services to exploit new IT processes to their full potential, the report says.

Other problems identified by the committee include ministers receiving too few briefings on the progress of critical IT projects and a lack of continuity of senior ownership of these large-scale projects.

Despite the Office of Government Commerce recommending that senior responsible owners (SROs) be retained for the life of a project, ministers are still not sufficiently engaged to halt failing projects early enough, says the report.

It reveals that only half of senior responsible owners have quarterly meetings with their minister, and a fifth have no meetings at all.

The committee is also concerned about the level of experience of many SROs.

"More than half of SROs are in their first SRO role, and nearly half spend less than 20% of their time on such duties. Lack of relevant experience, combined with a regular turnover of post-holders, adds unnecessary risk to the management of IT-enabled change," it says.

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