Patryk Kosmider -

Annual IPA report shows state of major government IT projects

None of the 29 government IT projects are given the lowest “red” ranking, but seven projects are rated as “amber/red”, including the Home Office digital borders programme and the NHS e-referral service, meaning successful delivery is in doubt

The Infrastructure and Projects authority’s (IPA) annual report shows seven government IT projects are rated amber/red, meaning their likelihood of success is in doubt.

The IPA’s report looks at the 133 major projects in government, including 29 ICT projects worth a total of £10bn.

Overall, across all projects, the number and proportion of amber/red and red ratings, those with the lowest chance of success, has increased. However, looking specifically at IT projects – there there seems to have been a small, overall improvement with one less amber/red rated project than last year.

Being rated amber/red through, still means the IPA is doubtful the project will be successful. One of the amber/red rated projects is the Home Office’s Digital Services at the Border programme, which aims to replace several outdated IT systems at the border, and is the successor of the failed e-Borders programme.

The report noted that the project has improved, as in March “a significant milestone was achieved at Heathrow Terminal 4 with the roll-out of Border Crossing, which enables the processing of both EU and non-EU passengers using Border Crossing instead of the Warnings Index system”.

Emergency and health services

The Home Office is also struggling with its Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP). The project, which sits in the IPA’s transformation category, is rated red, meaning “successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable”.

The project aims to replace the mobile communications service used by emergency services, with a new Emergency Services Network (ESN) which includes an enhanced 4G network, brand new mobile devices, and a transition, integration and support services wrap.

However, the project has struggled, and earlier in 2018, the Home Office began a review of the programme, which Home Office chief data, digital and technology officer Joanna Davinson promised would be complete by July.

However, last week, Home Office permanent secretary Philip Rutnam came under fire from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), as he told them he couldn’t make any firm commitment as to whether or not it would be completed on schedule.

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The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has the third largest number of major projects across different categories. Several NHS projects, such as the development of the new NHS.UK website, the 100,000 Genomes Project and the Health and Social care Network, are rated amber, meaning successful delivery “appears feasible but significant issues already exist”. 

However, other NHS projects are not faring so well. The NHS e-referral service, which aims to stop GPs using paper referrals, is rated amber/red.

The project, which has suffered from delays, originally began in 2015, but uptake was not as quick as expected. The government now aims for 100% of referrals to be made electronically by the end of 2018.

GDS projects

Over at the Government Digital Service (GDS), projects like government as a platform and common technology services are rated amber.

The sometimes controversial Verify programme, which was rated amber/green in 2016 and 2017, has fallen down to an amber rating in 2018. The government’s identity assurance platform has struggled with delays and low uptake, and identity experts have strongly suggested that Verify needs a major overhaul.

Despite the problems, the government has been firm in its target to have 25 million user accounts by 2020, however in May, Nic Harrison, director of service design and assurance at GDS, conceded that those will not all be “created by government”.

Commenting on the annual report, IPA chief executive Tony Meggs said he was overall impressed with the size and scope of the major projects in government.

“The current portfolio of government major projects remains a broad and ambitious one. It is vital we continue to help create the right environment for their successful delivery,” he said, adding in the report’s foreword that “there is always room for improvement in government project delivery”.

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