High-risk IT projects skipping vital review stages, reveals NAO

National Audit Office says some government departments are missing out Gateway checks

National Audit Office says some government departments are missing out Gateway checks

Some Whitehall departments are avoiding the system of checks and balances introduced by the government to minimise the risk of IT project disasters.

A National Audit Office report published last week revealed that government departments were not carrying out some Gateway reviews of high-risk IT projects - although the reviews provide the only systematic independent scrutiny of high-risk schemes.

This failure goes against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Gateway review process, which was launched in 2001 by Peter Gershon, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce.

In an effort to prevent IT project disasters, ministers and the OGC laid out a six-stage review process. The first review looks at a project's feasibility, a further three are carried out before award of contracts, a fifth review looks at the project's readiness for service and a final review evaluates the benefits it has delivered.

"The introduction of theÉ stages of the Gateway process will ensure that projects that have not met our rigid criteria will fail to proceed," said Gershon at the launch of the Gateway review.

The NAO report revealed that many IT-enabled projects were starting at stages two and three of the Gateway review process, after the business case had been prepared, and exiting before stage five, when there should be an assessment of value for money.

The report said that government IT procurement "has not been good, with repeated incidences of overspends, delays, performance shortfalls and abandonment at major cost". But the auditors made no decisive recommendation about what should be done to strengthen the process.

The NAO also found that the OGC had made improvements in IT project management but noted that, although reviews were mandatory, the OGC "has no authority to direct departments" to act on their findings. It can only encourage departments to adopt best practice.

MPs greeted the findings with dismay. Labour MP Alan Williams, a member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said he was appalled that departments were skipping some Gateway reviews.

Tory MP Richard Bacon, who also sits on the PAC, said the NAO report showed that the reforms needed to avoid IT disasters "did not appear to be incremental ones".

"We know what goes wrong and usually for the same reasons. More of the same will not deliver significant changes," he said.

MPs who talked to Computer Weekly believe there has been little improvement since Gershon said in 2003 that there were "still far too many projects reviewed by Gateway teams where, frankly, project planning is little better than something on the back of a cigarette packet".

The OGC declined to comment at this stage on the report.

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