The Government Digital Service (GDS) will take no further direct involvement in the development of the new “enhanced IT” required to roll out the troubled Universal Credit project.
GDS was brought in by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to help put Universal Credit’s IT back on track after substantial failings were revealed and millions of pounds wasted.
But Computer Weekly sources said disagreements over the new approach to IT development, announced yesterday by DWP, has caused GDS to step back from direct involvement, with all new IT work being handled by the DWP.
Secretary of state Iain Duncan Smith was finally forced to confirm that Universal Credit will be delayed beyond its deadline of 2017, with 700,000 benefits claimants having to wait to transfer into the system.
But, to avoid immediately writing off all the £303m spent on IT for the Pathfinder pilot projects, DWP decided to continue to add functionality to the current systems, while also developing what it called “enhanced IT” to roll out the full system.
“As announced in July, the department has been working with the Government Digital Service to explore an enhanced IT system for Universal Credit that uses the latest in technological advances. Ministers confirm that this system has proved viable and the department will further develop this work with a view to rolling it out once testing is complete,” said the DWP announcement yesterday.
In effect, that “twin-track” approach merely delays the likely scrapping of all the IT developed so far for the Pathfinder, according to Computer Weekly sources.
However, insiders claim that GDS – with the backing of Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude – preferred to scrap all the existing work and start again, with rumours that Maude and Duncan Smith disagreed on the way forward. As a result GDS has stepped back from the project.
DWP takes responsibility
The Cabinet Office confirmed in a statement to Computer Weekly that DWP has taken back responsibility for delivery on Universal Credit.
"Following the delivery of Strategic Proof of Concept in October 2013, a team within DWP will now take the digital solution forward, led by the department’s digital leader. An update on the Government Digital Strategy and exemplars will be published shortly,” said a spokesman.
Universal Credit remains one of the 25 “exemplars” of the top government transactions that GDS is targeting for a transition to “digital by default”. GDS has encouraged departments to build their own digital capability in-house and it was never the intention that GDS would provide all the digital skills for every department.
In October, DWP appointed Kevin Cunnington as its first director general for digital transformation, tasked with building the department’s digital capability.
DWP previously attempted to develop Universal Credit using agile methods, but that was a failure and the project reverted to traditional approaches. However, with DWP now developing a new digital system to adhere to principles laid out by GDS, that team will now have to make another attempt to use agile successfully.
The project has seen numerous re-organisations, with senior managers moved to different jobs, both in Universal Credit and elsewhere in the department. Sources suggest that as many as 250 people were moved off the project earlier this year.
It is also unclear what role the four main IT suppliers for Universal Credit – IBM, HP, Accenture and BT – will play in developing the “enhanced IT”, although consultancy Deloitte is believed to have been brought in to advise on the project. Insiders say that a lack of co-ordination between suppliers has been one of the sources of the IT problems.