Projects are failing because firms expect them to, warns IT barrister

Firms are setting their sights too low and are assuming that IT projects will inevitably be over budget and delayed when better...

Firms are setting their sights too low and are assuming that IT projects will inevitably be over budget and delayed when better project management could ensure they remain on track, one of the UK's leading IT barristers said this week.

Richard Mawrey QC has represented organisations in IT disputes over the past 30 years, including the Co-operative Group and St Albans City Council. He said that the biggest cause of IT disasters - the failure of different parts of the organisation to talk to each other during IT projects - was easily avoidable.

Big IT projects are being placed at risk because IT directors, business managers and in-house lawyers are failing to agree what they want from IT projects, he said in an interview with Computer Weekly.

"The legal, technical and business people do not get their heads together and communicate. The technical people simply see the project in terms of the functionality it will deliver. The business people see it in business terms and the legal people are there to ensure it operates in a sensible framework, but they do not bring it altogether," he said.

Poor communication often means that IT departments and suppliers work together to develop solutions that are technically up to the job, but fail to meet the real business needs of the organisation, said Mawrey.

In some cases the end product meets all the technical requirements for the customer but operates in a way that is totally incompatible with the way the people in the organisation work.

"The difference between £1m and £2m for an IT system at the top board-level of a large company is not enormous, but unless you keep a tight reign on the people below, it turns into mission creep," said Mawrey.

Organisations can give themselves extra protection under the law from IT failures by making sure they hire suppliers that are specialists in their field.

According to consultancy Best Practice Group, suppliers that represent themselves as specialists - in reality 90% of them - have legal obligations to give customers honest advice about the suitability of their products to their business.

Suppliers have to tell customers what they can deliver, let users know if a solution will not meet their expectations and warn them if a finished product will not match the initial specification, said Allan Watton managing director of Best Practice Group. Most IT directors are unaware of these rights.

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