Your shout: readers share their views on the National Audit Office, start-ups and outsourcing

Readers share their views on IT issues

Audit office is outdated and outmanoeuvred

Name and address withheld

Tony Collins states in his blog: "In its style of reporting to parliament, the National Audit Office is very British: its writing is characterised by understatement and politeness. The factual content of its reports is agreed with the departments and agencies most gentlemanly and consensual".

The National Audit Office is outdated and outmanoeuvred. It is outdated because it simply fails to hold senior responsible owners to account. These are senior civil servants who appear more interested in turf battles about budgets and the size of their personal fiefdoms rather than the efficient use of public resources.

The gentlemanly language may have had its place pre-WWII, but in an environment dominated by a catalogue of expensive, delayed and often ineffective IT systems, it is time to start calling a spade a spade. Senior responsible owners should be named and shamed.

Regarding the outmanoeuvred point, government departments rarely seem to take real notice of National Audit Office criticism. If you look at modern corporate audit practice in the private sector, the auditors are increasingly focusing on recommending improvements before projects fail, rather than stating the obvious after they fail.

Why not give the National Audit Office real teeth? Allow it to challenge failing projects while they are still being executed, and if necessary stop work until appropriate governance and contractual mechanisms are in place. At least they could then be seen to be protecting the taxpayer rather than providing anodyne reporting after the event.

Start-ups need effective marketing to survive

Ray Jones, head of communications, The Chartered Institute of Marketing

Britain has a strong history of encouraging start-up businesses, but the record shows that due to the lack of early strategic market research and professional marketing, the number of those that fail within their first year is high. So I was surprised when reading your article on start-up companies to find that marketing was passed over in just a few words.

Many excellent innovations go to the wall because of poor understanding of some basic marketing principles. If no one knows your product or service exists, if it is overpriced, if you are trying to sell it to the wrong people, or if the right people just do not want it, then it stands a good chance of failing commercially.

A study by the Chartered Institute of Marketing found that well over half of all marketers in the technology sector see marketing as a high priority within their organisation, but this figure represents established firms that have been through the painful start-up phase. Many never get this far. When looking for venture capital to develop a business, start-ups should seriously consider factoring marketing into the equation.

Every market today is highly competitive and no one can rely on just having a good idea.

Contract managers key to successful outsourcing

Paul Carter Hemlin

Yet again another article, well two actually, on outsourcing, and neither mentions a key ingredient to the success of negotiating and managing outsourcing agreements, namely the contract manager.

Andy Troder in his piece mentions the use of lawyers and HR, but makes no reference to the contract professional. It is not uncommon for the terms and conditions of an outsourcing deal to exceed 1,000 pages, however, only 10%-15% of the contract is "pure" law that you need the lawyer for, and typically less than 5% covers HR/Tupe issues. The remaining 80% or so of the contract concerns the "meat in the sandwich" - ie. the business terms, the scope of the services to be provided, the service levels etc.

Contract managers are naturally commercially minded they understand change and are a better conduit into the technical community than lawyers, and this results in a better understanding of the technical solution. City lawyers are currently bragging about their fees breaking through the £1,000-per-hour ceiling, an amount you could use to hire a contract management consultant for a day.

Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)

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