Public sector could learn from the Pru

After ploughing so much money into Internet projects, the financial services sector will be heartened to read this week's report...

After ploughing so much money into Internet projects, the financial services sector will be heartened to read this week's report on the steady growth of e-banking in the UK. Successful Internet banking projects are working wonders in promoting the status of the IT department within the business.

Prudential Europe's contract with Unisys to deliver Unite, a sales-boosting Web-enablement project should have provided further evidence of IT's ability to drive strategic corporate change in the finance sector. But slippage of delivery dates has seen the company can the project before the bulk of the work had been carried out.

There is an object lesson in damage limitation to be learnt here. Prudential is less than keen to lay blame or mete out punishment for mistakes made. It merely wants to realise the return on investment it knows Internet technology can deliver.

Since this looks unlikely in the case of Unite, it is cutting its losses.

Such quick reflexes were possible because Prudential had set in place numerous analyses of decision and concept, allowing it to monitor the project closely, to keep a firm grasp on what Unisys could and couldn't deliver.

Prudential has shown pragmatism and maturity in nipping this failing project in the bud. Termination of the contract is sure to create huge difficulties, among them the headache of redeploying staff and the spectre of legal action. But the alternative is a project that does not deliver on its promises - and that does neither the business nor the IT department any good.

The public sector would do well to mimic Prudential's decisiveness. Here the lack of accountability means ailing projects are rarely put to sleep, but are left to stagger and die by senior non-IT managers who are more interested in avoiding the rap than in delivering good IT.

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