The home secretary was clearly struggling in the ID Cards Bill debate last week. His attempt to show that the government has a strong track record in running large-scale IT projects backfired badly.
The examples chosen by Clarke smacked of desperation. Chip and Pin and a project at the Department of Work and Pensions that promises to save more than £1bn over the next five years, together with research that shows a high level of customer satisfaction at the Passport Office, were hardly convincing. Chip and Pin is not even a government project.
As Phil Reed makes clear on this page, there are some success stories in public sector IT. There are innovative IT projects that make a real difference. There is also a determined effort to improve public sector IT performance.
The government CIO and his CIO Council, together with other public sector IT leaders, are trying to spread best practice to ensure that projects that we all rely on deliver significant benefits.
That is why it is such a pity that the home secretary did not have a better grasp of the technology issues surrounding the ID card project and simply tried to bluster when confronted with the arguments and his department's IT track record.
Successful IT projects require clear goals and simple processes. IT experts from academia and industry have repeatedly drawn attention to the complexity and risks of the government's ID card programme. Last week the London School of Economics published details of a simpler, alternative model that could meet the government's objectives at a fraction of the cost. The government should listen.
Mind the data quality
If the government's controversial ID card plan becomes reality, it will depend entirely on the quality of the data held on every citizen of the UK.
The complexities of maintaining accurate and up-to-date information are well known to major corporations with large numbers of customers. Our case study on Prudential (page 28) clearly illustrates the nature of the challenges and the depth of commitment needed to meet them.
The task being taken on by the government is massive in comparison to mainstream private sector projects, but ministers to date have shown little comprehension of how high the hurdles are.
This really is a case of mind the quality, don't just feel the width.