Independent IT and project management specialists are intervening in Whitehall computer projects in an unprecedented attempt to stop them turning into disasters, the Cabinet Office said this week.
Although departments and their consultants are normally trusted by the Treasury to produce a watertight business case for a project, the Cabinet Office says there is now independent scrutiny of plans before they are given the go-ahead.
Further measures to improve the performance of major government IT projects are in the pipeline, according to Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney. He said this week that, among the first recommendations from a Cabinet Office study into the handling of major Whitehall IT projects, is that ministers take a personal role in overseeing and scrutinising major IT projects.
Traditionally ministers have signed off major schemes but have not found out about serious problems on projects until it is too late to avoid a disaster.
Two other recommendations from the study are that all high risk projects are reviewed on a regular basis by a team of independent specialists, and that a new system is established to share information about major IT projects as they proceed.
The Cabinet Office said that interventions so far have already led to risk management plans being modified to take a more realistic view of the inherent dangers in innovative schemes, to improved contingency arrangements in case disaster strikes, and a better focus on the delivery of business benefits.
However, McCartney's officials have declined to name any departments or project plans that have benefited from interventions so far. They also refused to give any details of what they describe as the "independent experts" who are reviewing projects before they are given the go-ahead. They say that providing details would affect the collaboration between the independent project reviewers and the departments.
Charles Hughes, chairman of the Computing Services & Software Association Project Review Board, which is feeding suggestions to the Cabinet Office on improving IT projects, welcomed the recommendations, particularly the one calling for ministerial supervision.