Your shout: Inland Revenue has no outsourcing excuses

With regards to John Yard of the Inland Revenue, who said that the government cannot be expected to get outsourcing project requirements right at the outset (Computer Weekly, 11 May), this is definitely a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it.

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Inland Revenue has no outsourcing excuses

With regards to John Yard of the Inland Revenue, who said that the government cannot be expected to get outsourcing project requirements right at the outset (Computer Weekly, 11 May), this is definitely a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it.

In-house IT staff, who used to provide the flexibility looked for by the Inland Revenue, have been seen as expensive and tended to deliver late. (This is due to the penalty in time caused by changing the design once the project is under way.) Now it wants an outside company which has a duty to its shareholders to offer the same flexibility at a lower cost. Staff from the supplier will work for the Inland Revenue and this is where their loyalty lies.

The Inland Revenue outsourced to control its costs. The penalty is the need to specify up-front exactly what it wants.

Outsourcing is not a cure for poor project design and management - in fact, it shows up the problems more. The best solution for bespoke applications is a good in-house team who know the business, and people with strong design and project management skills.

Start with a simple, small core application and build on the extras as the users decide what they need. The problems are of the Inland Revenue's making, no one else's.

John Kaye, Reading

Technology, not laws, will beat the hackers

In response to Ben Hayman (Letters, 11 May), he is right to point out that patching is inadequate to combat Sasser. However, I cannot help but feel he is missing the point.

The belief that a more stringent legislative regime would act as a deterrent to hackers is at best naive. As we found out with Sasser, the perpetrators of these security attacks are almost always from outside the UK, where our legislation has no real authority. UK legislation is never going to work - you simply cannot rely on single-domain legislation to counteract global threats.

Moreover, to avoid the arm of the law, hackers are getting smarter at covering their tracks, such as relaying malware via zombie machines to hide the original source.

We cannot rely on legislative processes to provide the solution. We need a combination of different measures to tackle the issue and using tools rather than patching is the way forward. For example, a managed service firewall would have stopped the spread of Sasser.

Firms should look to suppliers to offer greater support, rather than taking on the responsibility themselves. There is no magic bullet, and although we should welcome tighter regulation, there is much that suppliers can do to lessen the impact.

Dan Scobie, Strategic technology officer, Star Internet


Should CIOs modernise or economise?

The opinion article "Be sure of a living legacy" (Computer Weekly, 11 May) highlighted the "modernise versus economise" dilemma which is at the crux of every IT director's agenda.

Mike Gilbert's point, that it is perfectly possible to breathe new life into aging applications that support well-established business processes, is well made. But what about introducing new procedures, such as content management, enterprise collaboration or customer relationship management?

There is also evidence to suggest that these systems fail in the long term because employees rarely use them as intended. Many demand extensive training and are not intuitive.

As businesses' needs change, IT systems need to be extended and upgraded, but only as and when necessary. IT directors must plan for possible futures, but should not be expected to pay now for functions which may or may not be needed.

From the end-user's perspective, taking this "create the future now" approach is like fitting a motor scooter with a turbocharger. Desirable as it may seem, it is not necessary and may end in disaster.

Peter Aylward, managing director, RedDot Solutions

NHS systems fouled by dirty data

I was interested to read that Alliance & Leicester is seeking to combat "dirty data" (Computer Weekly, 11 May). But financial services firms are not the only ones that need to address this issue - what about the NHS?

The latest figures show that there are about 3.5 million more patients registered with GPs than the estimated 52 million people resident in England. These statistics demonstrate the unreliability of data accuracy in the NHS - and this is in an organisation where errors can quite literally be fatal.

Transparency is the key. It necessitates a new approach to IT and puts data in the spotlight. Unless the NHS achieves that transparency and can demonstrate the accuracy of patient information, it will not be able to deliver the 360-degree view of each patient record.

Adrian McKeon, managing director, Infoshare

Lack of qualifications does not mean unskilled

I read with interest your article about the lack of qualifications held by security staff and IT professionals (Computer Weekly, 11 May). However, as a recruiter of such IT staff, I have difficulty in identifying the correlation between a lack of qualifications and security breaches.

I have spoken to many IT security managers and, although many request qualifications, very few placements are made with candidates with qualifications. The managers believe, as do I, that on-the-job or peer-to-peer knowledge transfers are the best way to train security and IT professionals in their chosen field, along with client-sponsored training programmes.

Although I appreciate the recognition these qualifications bring, I do not think they are the problem - it is the lack of complete candidates, or those with strong, solid commercial experience and professional qualifications.

Often it is the "either or" scenario: someone spending thousands of pounds of their own money on qualifications but with no experience; or highly skilled technicians with no formal IT education.

Robert Nunn, consultant, Hudson

On how to motive an unhappy IT team

In response to Robin Laidlaw, who advocated sacking the worst-performing 25% of your IT staff to revitalise a demotive department (Computer Weekly, 11 May)


I did a "quick performance assessment" of Robin Laidlaw's solution for turning an unhappy IT team around. Unfortunately he came in the bottom 25% of the solutions.

Your recent articles on bullying and stress can be directly linked to foolish management techniques such as these. Such rash moves will rid a company of good engineers as fast as they can find jobs, leaving the insecure and probably under-performing ones behind to struggle along in misery.

Richard Taylor

I was disgusted with the response to your Strategy Clinic problem from Robin Laidlaw, president of the CW500 Club.

If he feels it is an acceptable management technique to come in, take a quick look around and then sack 25% of the staff, one can only hope the remaining 75% take note and resign straight away, citing constructive dismissal.

Oh, and it would be nice to think that both the 25% and the 75% give him hell at the industrial tribunals for about a year.

Memo to Robin: your solution should have included how to explain your management attitude to the board at your exit interview - I am sure they, like me, would have thought this management style went out with the end of the Thatcher years, and that they had hired someone up-to-speed on current legislation in employment.

Sandy Moncrieff


On automating mundane tasks to free up staff

In response to Bob Goodwin, who advocated investing in data entry software to eliminate drudgery (Computer Weekly, 11 May)

Bob Goodwin is right to encourage companies to use IT to automate routine, labour-intensive and uninteresting work. However, in some cases automation has gone too far in the quest for efficiency - to the point where customer service has suffered.

The public has been vocal in its hatred of interminable automated telephone systems, from telephone banking to cinema booking lines, yet IT companies are turning to automated support services in their droves, dangerously ignoring the potential impact on customer satisfaction and the business relationship.

They sell this move to customers as a business benefit, but is this really the case? Or are these IT companies simply wrapping a cost-saving measure in pretty marketing glitz?

Old-fashioned service should prevail when supporting what are complex products critical to the business. Yes, provide online information, even enable online booking, but IT suppliers need to ask themselves whether the drive for efficiency and lower costs will be at the expense not only of the customer but of their relationship with the customer.

If automation is being driven purely by cost, it will undoubtedly cut customer complaints. However, an invisible customer is not necessarily a happy one - it might just be one about to move to the competition.

Shabbir Osman, UK managing director, Eclipse Computing

On the UK slipping down the e-gov league table

In response to news that the UK has fallen to ninth place in a global survey of e-government progress (Computer Weekly, 11 May)

Although I was not surprised to hear that the UK is slipping in the e-government tables, I do not agree that the UK's online future is unclear.

Transactional websites are only one part of the modernisation of government and authorities are working to improve the sophistication of a variety of channels, including the most popular form of citizen contact: the telephone.

Changing hearts and minds takes time and we have to move at a pace that suits the country. Initiatives such as the National Project, which is being driven by Norwich City Council, are already underway to highlight the value that e-services can bring and this will undoubtedly encourage take-up.

I have every confidence that the UK will soon move back up these rankings once the internet is more widely accepted and used in this country. I also think it is far better to get the infrastructure right and then to concentrate on marketing, otherwise we are in danger of making a lot of empty promises as to what e-government can deliver.

David Bracken, Steria

This was last published in May 2004

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