Computer Weekly readers give their views on the week's news
Make high risk projects a thing of the past
Christopher Thoday, software engineer
With regard to your story NAO highlights perils facing key IT projects, there should be no high-risk projects. How can anyone determine whether a project will be cost-effective if the risks are not under control?
According to a National Audit Office report, the government paid three times the going rate for the replacement system for the Child Support Agency, yet it has been scrapped with half the £1.1bn cost yet to be paid.
Ten years ago the book "Software Failure, Management Failure" detailed a number of critical failure factors related to IT projects, yet the problems continue unabated.
A classic cause of failure is for management to stick to an implementation timetable regardless of the state of the software.
There is no time to carry out integration tests, so a faulty system is put into use regardless. The problems are compounded if the new and supposedly more efficient system coincides with redundancies.
A recent case of this was the Single Farm Payments scheme. Those working on the software knew that it is going wrong, but the management were so committed to the success of the project that they could not be told.
While poor management is part of the problem, it is not the whole answer. The software engineering aspects are equally important, but are not properly addressed by the NAO. Unsatisfactory project definition and incompetent systems design is often compounded by continual changes to the requirements.
I believe that the government needs a chief software engineer to provide a quality control procedure and independent technical advice.
There is no justification for the government to hide behind "commercial confidentiality" and no public benefit in so doing. An open and continuous process of review is an essential software engineering technique.
In view of the many billions of pounds wasted and the damage to many people's lives, it is high time that the MPs take seriously their role of holding the government to account.
Need for more courses for young people is urgent
I completeley agree with the points made in your story IT skills crisis will damage UK economy, says Shadbolt The lack of IT training for young people is unreal. The only course offered by my local college is a BTEC National diploma which does not cover the right subjects for my interests.
But university degrees cost money, as do courses through private training companies. There is a need for a really good course for students aged 16-18, which I feel is the foundation age for developing a career and making choices.
My freelance web design portfolio got me a job to use as a foothold into the industry. I am also setting up an IT resource website for all ages and all IT backgrounds. I want future generations to be better equipped with knowledge. It is still small and needs support and community input but here it is.
We must stop pandering to the NPfIT cash cow
Richard Barker, Sovereign Business Integration
The missed NHS IT deadline has come as no surprise to those in the IT sector. The NPfIT will never get back on track, and was never on track originally. It breaks every rule of project management, from scoping right through to delivery, and is completely failing to address the requirements of NHS clinicians.
The project management team has approached the matter as if they are dealing with a nation of identikits, not individual idiosyncratic patients. No right-thinking manager would attempt to deploy systems on a national basis like this - it makes no sense and simply cannot be achieved.
Over £20bn of taxpayers' money has been wasted on a system that was destined to fail. The concept is undoubtedly laudable, but it has been approached from the wrong angle from the outset. Smaller software companies already serving the NHS were not permitted to tender for NPfIT contracts, and those that were awarded them had no healthcare experience.
In the event, the larger IT firms actually outsourced to the very companies who had been refused contracts. Further, integrating all the regional systems that were created to comprise the final NPfIT was always going to be an uphill struggle to say the least.
The NPfIT is five years overdue - how many more casualties are going to be caused by IT industry fat cats pandering to the cash cow the NPfIT has become?
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