Market must address IT failures in large infrastructure projects, government says

If companies want certainty that strategic investment will continue post Brexit, they need to address areas such as technical complexity management, says the chief executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority

Successful delivery of major infrastructure projects depends on the private sector’s ability to address its shortcomings in areas such as systems integration, according to a government official.

Delivering projects such as HS2 and Crossrail is challenging and the government is doing all it can to be “the best client it can be”, but the market needs to step up, the chief executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), Matthew Vickerstaff, said.

Commenting on the market needs for assurances that strategic investment will continue after the UK leaves the EU, Vickerstaff said the government also needs delivery confidence from its private sector partners, particularly when it comes to managing increasing technical complexity.

“We recognise that the market needs certainty from the government that strategic investment will continue, but the government also needs certainty from the market that it can deliver,” he said.

We can do that together by seeing these current challenges as opportunities, and providing reassurances that we are learning the right lessons, such as focusing on behaviours, optimism bias and systems integration.

Establishing the conditions for success right at the start of projects is the approach set out by Vickerstaff to mitigate complex systems integration failures that arise late in a project lifecycle.

Technology is becoming more critical to delivery, yet it isn’t getting the same level of attention and focus as traditional construction and civil engineering,” he said.

The more “obvious” ways of addressing issues such as those cited by Vickerstaff include allowing enough time for system testing and avoiding squeezing timescales to cater for other larger priorities.

Recruiting and retaining skilled IT professionals is also crucial in ensuring large infrastructure projects are successfully delivered, he added.

“We need to invest in the people with the skills to manage these technological risks and attract them to the industry, which has been associated with just diggers and concrete for too many years now,” he added.

The conclusion that more attention needs to be given to systems integration is one of the features that stood out in the analysis work carried out by the IPA in partnership with the Department for Transport on the “right lessons” from previous infrastructure projects.

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