Public sector at risk of wasting billions on IT

Public sector IT expenditure over the past 12 months is in excess of £12.4bn with "a significant proportion at risk of being...

Public sector IT expenditure over the past 12 months is in excess of £12.4bn with "a significant proportion at risk of being wasted", according to a House of Commons select committee.

In the most significant ever inquiry into public sector IT failures, MPs on the cross-party Department for Work and Pensions select committee called for increased scrutiny of ministers, civil servants and suppliers throughout the lifetime of IT projects.

The committee's inquiry was sparked by the failure of the DWP and its IT outsourcer EDS to deliver a fully functioning new case management system for the Child Support Agency.

The MPs recommended that if the CSA could not guarantee that the migration of cases held on its old systems by 1 May 2005, then the agency should publish its contingency plans, including "in particular the abandonment of the [new] … system in the event that this should become necessary".

The MPs, whose report entitled Management of information technology projects: making IT deliver for DWP customers, was published today, called for a renewed drive to ensure adherence to best practice.

"The necessary standards and methodologies of best practice are already in the public domain. The trick seems to be to get key people - from ministers to project teams - to comply with the necessary standards," the MPs stated.

"In our view, the mechanism for improving compliance with good standards is to increase scrutiny so that best practice can be seen to have been followed with penalties [including possible dismissals of senior staff, and/or contract termination] where it has not."

Closer parliamentary scrutiny of IT projects is "a prerequisite" to improving success rates, the MPs noted, adding that "IT is only one part of the business transformation that is usually needed to make projects succeed".

The committee made 36 specific recommendations, including:

  • The government should publish Gateway reviews with appropriate safeguards or failing that to set out how Parliament otherwise can be provided with the level of information it needs in order to scrutinise adequately questions of value for money from major IT contracts.
  • The government invites the Office of Government Commerce to undertake and complete a review by 1 July 2005 into the likely effect of implementing a statutory framework of IT best practice along the lines of the US Clinger-Cohen act in the UK.

The powers of the Office of Government Commerce should be strengthened to allow it to:

  • Impose the recommendations made by Gateway reviews;
  • Ensure that departments follow the guidance;
  • Allow the OGC to police compliance with mandatory actions.

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