Legislation is only way to stop central government IT disasters

Computer Weekly campaigns to enforce best practice in public sector project management.

Computer Weekly campaigns to enforce best practice in public sector project management

The UK must legislate to force the public sector's compliance with best practice in IT project management. This is the main aim of a campaign by Computer Weekly to fight the prolonged malaise of IT disasters in government.

It is also the centrepiece of a submission by Computer Weekly to a Parliamentary committee that is examining Whitehall IT projects. The submission comes a week after public spending watchdog the National Audit Office highlighted an IT project failure at the Criminal Records Bureau.

The call for legislation is based on experience in the US, where the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act requires public sector organisations to implement best practice in project management. It was introduced after senator William Cohen saw that continuing IT disasters were wasting public money and were due to long-standing systemic problems such as a lack to attention to business processes when introducing new systems.

The fundamental mistakes highlighted in last week's NAO report on the CRB show that producing best practice advice is not enough. Computer Weekly believes the UK needs legislation to ensure transparent adherence to already well-known best practice across all facets of public sector IT projects if it is to escape the cycle of project delay and failure.

Commenting on the NAO report MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said, "The grim familiarity of this story of the failings of a high-profile government IT project should not diminish our anger that the CRB service was appallingly planned and, in consequence, badly implemented."

The Commons' work and pensions subcommittee will look at how the lessons learned from major projects may be relevant to reforms at the Child Support Agency, and to a huge IT modernisation programme in its parent organisation, the Department for Work and Pensions.

Computer Weekly is also calling for Gateway reviews on the progress of government projects to be made public. The proposal has been prompted, in part, by past decisions of Gateway reviewers working for the Office of Government Commerce to endorse the go-ahead of systems that have gone live with calamitous results.

Paul Goodman, an MP on the DWP committee, supports Computer Weekly's proposals.

A spokesman for the OGC said, "A Gateway review is conducted on a confidential basis for the senior responsible owner of the project concerned. Ownership of the report rests with them and not with the OGC. This approach promotes an open and honest exchange between the project and the gateway review teams."

Computer Weekly will support its campaign with oral evidence to the committee on 23 February.

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