For the first time, government auditors have explained with clarity and insight what differentiates good IT-based projects from bad ones.
Most striking of all, the National Audit Office report vindicates Computer Weekly’s long campaign for more open communications, honest appraisals of risk, and greater accountability on government IT schemes.
During a year of research, auditors picked out 24 case studies of success from a plethora of pretenders. Projects which delivered IT systems that few people liked or used were rejected.
The report also highlights systemic deficiencies in government IT. Some of the practices highlighted in the document border on the anarchic (see page 16). In the private sector such bad practice could amount to negligence.
The question is: what happens now? The painful answer is nothing. The report will go onto government shelves and be forgotten. It has many good recommendations, but there is no mechanism to enforce their execution.
So government IT will remain, in the main, unregulated, unpoliced, unaccountable and excessively secretive.
Computer Weekly has recommended US-style legislation to compel the public sector to police good practice, but the Office of Government Commerce has rejected the idea.
There will not be lasting change until those at the top of government come out of the world of make-believe, where civil servants speak to MPs and ministers in an endless monotony of jargon-laded phrases which all have the message, “Trust us: we know what we’re doing.”
We know from countless IT-related disasters that government does not always know what it is doing. And the latest NAO report confirms it.
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