IDS not quite as bullish on Universal Credit programme?

By Tony Collins

Iain Duncan Smith told the House of Commons in January 2013:

“Universal Credit is on track and on budget. The systems are not new or complex. After all, more than 60% of the total developed system is based on reusing existing IT. New developments will use tried and tested technology.

“The key difference between how this Government are doing things and how they were done before is that we have adopted commercial “agile” design principles to build the IT service for universal credit in four stages, each four months long.”

No longer does IDS say the Universal Credit programme is on time or on budget. Indeed in the House of Commons yesterday he was asked by Labour if the Treasury has approved the full business case for Universal Credit. His replies to MPs were not quite as bullish as they sometimes have been.

He spoke about the programme almost entirely in the future tense, and when he mentioned the present state of the programme he quoted someone else –  John Manzoni, the chief executive of the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority.

Labour’s Nicholas Brown asked IDS when he expects the business case for Universal Credit to be fully signed off.

IDS: “I announced in December that Her Majesty’s Treasury has approved funding for the universal credit programme in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The final stage in Treasury approvals is sign-off of the full business case, which covers the full lifetime of the programme. We expect to agree that very shortly.”

Brown: The answer to a similar question two months ago was “very shortly”, but it is taking rather longer than the Secretary of State intended. What are the major outstanding issues between his Department and the Treasury, and where does universal credit now stand in the Cabinet Office’s traffic light system?

IDS: “… the reality is that we have agreed all the spending that is relevant to the plan that we set out at the end of last year. The final point relates to the full lifetime of that programme, which will take it all the way through, probably beyond all the years that anybody present will be in government. [MPs: 'Certainly you!'] …  That is now being agreed and the reality is that it has to be done very carefully. I genuinely believe, from my discussions, that it will be signed off very shortly. The result will be that the programme will be seen for what it is: a programme that will deliver hugely to those who have the toughest lives and need the most support and help.”

Labour’s Andrew Gwynne asked when the government is going to get a grip on a “chaotic shambles”.

IDS: “It is always nice to live in the past, but the reality is that if the hon. Gentleman waits he will see that this programme is running well and will be delivering, that this programme of universal credit will benefit everybody who needs the support they most need, and all the nonsense he is talking about will all go away.

Chris Bryant, Labour, said that IDS keeps telling MPs that the UC business case will be approved very shortly.  “What has gone wrong?” he asked IDS.

IDS: “There are no sticking points, but these matters need to be agreed carefully. This test-first-and-then-implement process is the way all future programmes will be implemented.

“I just want to quote Mr Manzoni, the new chief executive of the Major Projects Authority, who made it clear to the Public Accounts Committee in June that universal credit is stable and on track with the reset plan.”

Comment

The National Audit Office is re-investigating the UC programme and is expected to publish its second “progress” report on the state of the programme by December.

If IDS says anything unjustifiably positive about the programme now, MPs and the media will compare his comments today with what the NAO says in its new report. Is that why he refers to the programme only in the future tense? And who can say with certainty what will or will not happen in the future?

It may be worth mentioning that ministers and officials, some years into the NPfIT, referred to the state of the programme almost entirely in the future tense.

DWP wastes money on another Universal Credit FOI appeal

By Tony Collins

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions are to pay external lawyers to attend another FOI hearing as part of the department’s efforts to stop four old reports on the Universal Credit programme being published.

A hearing will take place in London on 3 December for the DWP to put its case for a third time that it should be allowed to appeal a ruling of the first tier information tribunal that the four reports be published.

Although the DWP’s lawyers have lost every tribunal decision they have contested in the case, there is no sign the department’s officials will restrict the amount of public money they allocate to stopping publication of the reports.

If lawyers for the DWP continue to lose every judicial decision, officials will always have the option of a ministerial veto.

The DWP’s multiple appeals are arguably a pointless plundering of the public purse for legal costs, because officials have known from the initial FOI requests in 2012 that they would never publish the reports in question.

Despite the efforts of Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude to introduce open government, no central department has agreed to issue reports on the progress or otherwise of its big IT-dependent projects and programmes.

This is the chronology so far in the DWP’s attempts to stop the four Universal Credit reports being published:

March 2012 – I make a freedom of information request for a Project Assessment Review of the Universal Credit programme, as carried out by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority.  The PAR would have given early indications of the problems the IT teams faced while the DWP’s ministers and press office were issuing public statements that the programme was on time and on budget.

April 2012 - John Slater, a programme and project management professional, makes an FOI request for the Universal Credit programme Risk Register, which gives a traffic light status of the risks most likely to occur and who should take ownership of them. He also requests an Issues Register which details the problems and failures that have occurred and why, how they can be managed, and how their effect on the programme can be minimised or eliminated. The Milestone Schedule he requests would show whether milestones have been met or changed.

May 2012 – DWP minister Lord Freud personally signs refusals to release any of the four reports. John Slater and I request internal reviews of the refusals. The DWP rejects our appeals so we complain to the Information Commissioner.

June 2013 – The Information Commissioner orders that the DWP publish three of the reports but not the Risk Register. The DWP appeals the ruling.  John Slater appeals the Commissioner’s decision to keep the Risk Register confidential.

Jan 2014 – A two-day appeal hearing is held in Leicester, before the First-Tier Information Tribunal. Slater appears at the hearing, as do representatives of the Information Commissioner and the DWP.

March 2014 –  Judge David Farrer and his First-Tier tribunal members rule that the DWP publish all four reports.  The DWP discovers that the version of the PAR [Project Assessment Review] it supplied to the Tribunal is not the final version that has been requested. It is evidently a draft. “How the mistake occurred is not entirely clear to us,” says Judge Farrer. He suggests that the DWP might not have read the PAR closely and has refused to publish it on principle. Under the FOI every request is supposed to be considered on its merits.

“Whilst the differences [between the draft and final versions] related almost entirely to the format, it did raise questions as to how far the DWP had scrutinised the particular PAR requested, as distinct from forming a generic judgement as to whether PARs should be disclosed,” says the judge.

He also comes close to saying the DWP had not been telling the truth about the state of Universal Credit programme. He and his tribunal members have read the four reports in question. He says the Tribunal had been “struck by the sharp contrast” between “the unfailing confidence and optimism of a series of press releases by the DWP or ministerial statements as to the progress of the Universal Credit programme” and some of the criticisms and controversy the programme was attracting at the time of the public statements.

April 2014 – The DWP seeks Judge’s Farrer’s permission to appeal his ruling. Unexpectedly the judge refuses the DWP permission.  The DWP’s lawyers had argued that the Tribunal had “wholly misunderstood the nature and/or manifestation of any chilling effect”. [The chilling effect suggests that public servants will not tell the whole truth in project reviews if they know the reports will be published.] The DWP said the Tribunal’s misunderstanding about the chilling effect “amounted to an error in law” and was “perverse”. Judge Farrer said he had not misunderstood the DWP’s claims of a chilling effect.

May 2014 –  The DWP’s lawyers ask the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal the ruling of the First Tier Tribunal that the four reports be published. The DWP’s arguments are long and complex – but they are, arguably, useful only to the bank account of lawyers because the DWP will not publish the four reports whatever the outcome of its appeals.

June 2014 – The judge of the Upper Tribunal (Nicholas Wikeley)  refuses to give the DWP permission to appeal the ruling of the First-Tier Tribunal.  On the DWP’s claim that the First-Tier Tribunal has misunderstood the chilling effect, the Upper Tribunal’s ruling says,

“This [the chilling effect] is a well known concept, and I can see no support for the argument that the Tribunal misunderstood its meaning …”

Having lost the case, the DWP requests permission from the Upper Tribunal for another appeal hearing so it can put its arguments in person, not just in writing. The Tribunal agrees.

August 2014 – The Upper Tribunal sets a date of 3 December 2014 in London for a hearing to decide whether the DWP can appeal the First-Tier Tribunal’s ruling that the four reports be published. The DWP’s lawyers have had the case open now for more than a year.

Comment

If the DWP’s ministers and officials were spending their own money on legal costs, doubtless the four reports would have been published within days of our FOI requests; and their publication would have made no difference except to make officials a little less confident that they could, in future, cover up serious problems on their big IT-dependent projects and programmes.

The irony of the whole case is that the DWP argues that it needs to keep the reports confidential because candid assessments of a programme’s problems are essential tools for good project management. But the DWP has presided over a succession of failed IT-dependent programmes.

Clearly the routine suppression of reports on its problems has not helped the DWP’s project management. The National Audit Office’s report on Universal Credit could hardly have been more negative about the DWP’s management of the Universal Credit programme.

Isn’t it time the DWP did things differently and published reports on the progress or otherwise of its biggest programmes? With improved public scrutiny the department may then start to have a succession of successes. What a surprise that would be, to the department’s officials at least.

 

Whitehall has taken on 100 technology experts over past year

By Tony Collins

The Cabinet Office says that government departments have taken on more than  100 IT experts over the past year.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) led the recruitment as part of a plan to raise technology-related skills in the civil service.

One appointment is of former Credit Suisse CIO Magnus Falk as the Government’s new Deputy Chief Technology Officer, reporting to Government CTO Liam Maxwell. Other recent technology recruits include:

  • MOJ Chief Technology Officer Ian Sayer, who was Global Chief Information Officer at Electrolux; and
  • Government Chief Technical Architect Kevin Humphries, former Chief Technical Architect at Qatarlyst.

Chief Digital Officer appointments include:

  • HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer Mark Dearnley, formerly CIO of Vodafone;
  • MOJ CDO Paul Shelter, who previously co-founded two start-ups and was CTO for banking at Oracle;
  • ONS’s Laura Dewis, Deputy Director Digital Publishing, who was Head of Online Commissioning at The Open University;
  • Jacqueline Steed, former Managing Director and CIO for BT Wholesale, who starts as CDO at the Student Loan Company next week; and
  • DWP CDO Kevin Cunnington, who was previously Global Head of Online at Vodafone.

Comment

It’s encouraging that the Cabinet Office, through the GDS, is overseeing the recruitment of IT leaders in government departments. It means the recruits will see their roles as cross-governmental. In the past the civil service culture has required that CIOs show an almost filial respect for their departmental seniors.

It’s a good idea that GDS tries to change age-old behaviours from within by recruiting technology experts with a wide range of experience from the private sector. But how long will they last?

Their challenge will be converting the words “transformation”, “innovation” and “fundamental change” from board papers, press releases, strategy documents, and conference speeches, into actions.

New deputy CTO role in central government – Government Computing

 

 

Cover-up of Universal Credit problems?

By Tony Collins

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee say the decision to award a ‘reset’ rating to the Universal Credit project is “an attempt to keep information secret and prevent scrutiny”.

Says the Committee in a report published this week:

 “Despite welcome progress in extending the range of information published, the data [in the Major Projects Authority' 2nd annual report]  is infrequent and out-of-date, and too much is still withheld. The MPA’s second annual report was a significant improvement on the first, with 30% less data withheld and more analysis provided.

“However, too much data is still missing. We are particularly concerned that the decision to award a ‘reset’ rating to the Universal Credit project was an attempt to keep information secret and prevent scrutiny.

“The Government’s transparency policy is too restrictive as it prevents useful data sets, such as the amount spent so far, from being published and stipulates that major project data can only be published once a year.

“This is too infrequent and means that the data available on high-profile, high-cost projects can be significantly out-of-date.”

The Major Projects Authority, at the request of “ministers” – which is taken to mean Iain Duncan Smith –  gave UC programme a “reset” designation instead of a red/amber/green traffic light.

All credit to the all-party committee for seeing the reset for what it is. The DWP tried to argue the UC programme was reset because the implementation had changed.

Before UC the Major Projects Authority had never given any project a “reset” designation  Even new projects considered risky are usually given a traffic light status.

Without a reset designation the MPA might have given the UC programme a red, or red/amber rating, which would have generated more bad publicity.

Comment

It’s extraordinary in an era of so-called open government that Major Project Authority reports on the progress or otherwise of big and risky government projects such as UC are not published.

It’s also extraordinary that the Cabinet Office minister and civil service reformer Francis Maude has been unable to get the reports published. He has agreed to keep them confidential in return for departmental ministers and permanent secretaries accepting publication of the MPA annual reports which have summaries of projects’ progress.

Even then Maude had little choice but to allow the summaries to be written by the department’s civil servants (not quoting the MPA reports). He has also accepted that the traffic light status’ will be at least six months old when published – in other words out-of-date.

Governments for more than a decade have been unable to publish progress reports on big IT-based projects. Civil servants will not let them be published.  Indeed the DWP is going through a series of appeals to stop UC reports from 2011 and 2012 being published – and these reports have nothing to do with the MPA.

If nothing else the MPA’s obsolescent second annual report – and the continued non-publication of progress reports on major projects – will contribute to the widely-held belief that it is the permanent civil service that is really in charge, not ephemeral ministers.

DWP’s advert for a £180k IT head – what it doesn’t say

By Tony Collins

Soon the Department for Work and Pensions will choose a Director General, Technology.  Interviewing has finished and an offer is due to go out to the chosen candidate any day now.

The appointee will not replace Howard Shiplee who runs Universal Credit but has been ill for some months. The DWP is looking for Shiplee’s successor as a separate exercise to the recruitment of the DG Technology.

In its job advert for a DG Technology the DWP seeks a “commercial CIO/CTO to become one of the most senior change agents in the UK government”.

The size of the salary – around £180k plus “attractive pension” – suggests that the DWP is looking for a powerful, inspiring and reforming figure. The DWP’s IT makes 730 million payments to a value of 166bn a year.

In practice it is not clear how much power and influence the DG will have, given that there will be a separate head of Universal Credit (Shiplee’s successor) and there is already in place a Director General for Digital Transformation Kevin Cunnington.

What’s a DG Technology to do then?

The job advert suggests the job is about bringing about “unprecedented” change.  It says:

“The department is undergoing major business change, which has at its heart a technology and digital transformation of the services it provides, which will radically improve how it interacts with citizens.”

The role, says the advert, involves:

  • “Designing, developing and delivering the technology strategy that will enable unprecedented business change.”
  • “… Reducing the time to taken to develop new services and cutting the cost of delivery.”

The chosen person needs “a clear record of success in enabling the delivery of service driven, user focused, digital business transformation,” says the advert.

What the DWP doesn’t say

If DWP officials took a truth pill when interviewing candidates they might have said:

  • “No department talks more about change than we do. We regularly commission reports on the need for transformation and how to achieve it. We issue press releases and give briefings on our plans for change.  We write  ministerial speeches on it. We employ talented people to whom innovation and productive change comes naturally. The only thing we don’t do is actually change. It remains an aspiration.
  • “We remain one of the biggest VME sites in the world (VME being a Fujitsu – formerly ICL – operating system that dates back to the 1970s). VME skills are in ever shorter supply and it’s increasingly costly to employ VME specialists but changing our core software is too risky; and there is no commercial imperative to change: it’s not private money we’re spending.  We’ve a £1bn a year IT budget – one of the biggest of any government department in the world.
  • DWP core VME systems run an old supplier-specific form of COBOL used on VME, not an industry standard form.
  • We’ve identified ways of moving away from VME: we have shown that VME-based IDMSX databases can be transitioned to commodity database systems, and that the COBOL code can be converted to Java and then run on open source application servers. Still we can’t move away from VME, not within the foreseeable future. Too risky.
  • We’d love the new DG Technology to work on change, transformation and innovation but he/she will be required for fire-fighting.
  • It’s a particularly difficult time for the DWP. We are alleged to have given what the Public Accounts Committee calls an unacceptable service to the disabled, the terminally ill and many others who have submitted claims for personal independence payments. We are also struggling to cope with Employment and Support Allowance claims. One claimant has told the BBC the DWP is “not fit for purpose”.
  •  The National Audit Office will publish an unhelpful report on Universal Credit this Autumn. We’ll regard the report as out-of-date, as we do all negative NAO reports. We will say publicly that we have already implemented its recommendations and we’ll pick out the one or two positive sentences in the report to summarise it. But nobody will believe our story, least of all us.
  • If we could, we’d appoint a representative of our major suppliers to be the head of IT.  HP, Fujitsu, Accenture, IBM and BT have a knowledge of how to run the DWP’s systems that goes back decades. The suppliers are happily entrenched, indispensable. That they know more about our IT than we do puts into context talk of SMEs taking over from the big players.
  • One reason we avoid major change is that we are not good at it: Universal Credit (known internally as Universal Challenge), the £2.6bn Operational Strategy benefit scheme that Parliament was told would cost no more than £713m, the £141m  (aborted) Benefit Processing Replacement Programme, Camelot which was the (aborted) Computerisation and Mechanisation of Local Office Tasks,  and the (aborted)) Debt Accounting and Management System. Not to mention the (aborted) £25m Analytical Services Statistical Information System.
  • They’re the failures we know about. We don’t have to account to Parliament on the progress or otherwise of our big projects, and we’re particularly secretive internally, so there may be project failures not even senior management know about.
  • We require cultural alignment of all the DWP’s most senior civil servants. This means the chosen candidate must – and without exception – defend the department against all poorly-informed critics who may include our own ministers.
  • The Cabinet Office has some well-meaning reformers we want nothing to do with. That said, our policy is to agree to change and then absorb the required actions, like the acoustic baffles on the walls of a soundproofed studio.

 

 

Secrecy is one reason gov’t IT-based projects fail says MP

By Tony Collins

The BBC, in an article on its website about Fujitsu’s legal dispute with the Department of Health, quotes Richard Bacon MP who, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, has asked countless civil servants about why their department’s IT-based change projects have not met expectations.

Bacon is co-author of a book on government failures, Conundrum, which has a chapter on the National Programme for IT [NPfIT] in the NHS.

In the BBC article Bacon is quoted as saying that the culture of secrecy surrounding IT-based projects is one of the main reasons they keep going so badly – and expensively – wrong.

He says it has been obvious to experts from an early stage that the NPfIT, which was launched by Tony Blair’s government, would be a “train wreck” because the contracts were signed “in an enormous hurry” and contained confidentiality clauses preventing contractors from speaking to the press.

He says the urge to cover things up means that “we never learn from our mistakes because there is learning curve, but when things go wrong with IT the response is to keep it quiet”.

Citing the example of air accident investigations, which are normally conducted in a spirit of openness so lessons can be learned, he says “It is the complete opposite in IT projects, where everyone keeps their heads down and goes hugger-mugger.”

Fujitsu versus Department of Health

Fujitsu sued the Department of Health for £700m after the company was ejected six years early [2008] from a 10-year £896m NPfIT contract signed in January 2004.  The case went to arbitration – and is still in arbitration, largely over the amount the government may be ordered to pay Fujitsu.  Bacon says the amount of the settlement will have to be disclosed.

“I don’t know how the government can honestly keep this number quiet. It simply cannot do it. It is not possible or sensible to keep it quiet when you are spending this much money,” says Bacon.

The BBC article quotes excerpts from a Campaign4Change blog

Government ‘loses £700m NHS IT dispute with Fujitsu’ – BBC News

 

Has Fujitsu won £700m NHS legal dispute?

By Tony Collins

The Telegraph reports unconfirmed rumours that Fujitsu has thrown a party at the Savoy to celebrate the successful end of its long-running dispute with the NHS over a failed £896m NPfIT contract.

Government officials are being coy about the settlement which implies that Fujitsu has indeed won its legal dispute with the Department of Health, at a potential cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Fujitsu sued the DH for £700m after it was ejected from its NPfIT contract to deliver the Cerner Millennium system to NHS trusts in the south of England.

At one point a former ambassador to Japan was said to have been involved in trying to broker an out-of-court settlement with Fujitsu at UK and global level.

But the final cost of the settlement is much higher than any figure agreed, for the Department of Health paid tens, possibly hundreds of millions of pounds, more than market prices for BT to take over from Fujitsu support for NHS trusts in the south of England. The DH paid BT £546m to take over from Fujitsu which triggered a minor Parliamentary inquiry.

A case that couldn’t go to court?

The FT reported in 2011 that Fujitsu and the Department of Health had been unable to resolve their dispute in arbitration and a court case was “almost inevitable”.

But the FT article did not take account of the fact that major government departments do not take large IT suppliers to an open courtroom. Though there have been many legal disputes between IT suppliers and Whitehall they have only once reached an open courtroom [HP versus National Air Traffic Services] – and the case collapsed hours before a senior civil servant was due to take the witness stand.

Nightmare for taxpayers

Now the Telegraph says:

“Unconfirmed reports circulating in the industry suggest that a long-running dispute over the Japan-based Fujitsu’s claim against the NHS for the cancellation of an £896 million contract has finally been settled – in favour of Fujitsu.”

It adds:

“Both Fujitsu and the Cabinet Office, which took over negotiations on the contract from the Department of Health, are refusing to comment. The case went to arbitration after the two sides failed to reach agreement on Fujitsu’s claim for £700 million compensation. Such a pay-out would be the biggest in the 60-year history of the NHS – and a nightmare for taxpayers.”

The government’s legal costs alone were £31.45m by the end of 2012 in the Fujitsu case.

Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, is likely to be aware that his officials will face Parliamentary criticisms for keeping quiet about the settlement. The Cabinet Office is supposed to be the home of open government.

Earlier this week the National Audit Office reported that Capgemini and Fujitsu are due to collect a combined profit of about £1.2bn from the “Aspire” outsourcing contract with HM Revenue and Customs.

Richard Bacon, a Conservative member of the Public Accounts Committee is quoted in the Telegraph as saying the settlement with Fujitsu has implications across the public sector. “It should be plain to anyone that we are witnessing systemic failure in the government’s ability to contract.”

What went wrong?

The Department of Health and Fujitsu signed a deal in January 2004 in good faith, but before either side had a clear idea of how difficult it would be to install arguably over-specified systems in hospitals where staff had little time to meet the demands of new technology.

Both sides later tried to renegotiate the contract but talks failed.

In 2008 Fujitsu Services withdrew from the talks because the terms set down by the health service were unaffordable, a director disclosed to MPs.

Fujitsu’s withdrawal prompted the Department of Health to terminate the company’s contract under the NHS’s National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

Fujitsu’s direct losses on the contract at that time – which was in part for the supply and installation of the Cerner “Millennium” system – were understood to be about £340m.

At a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee into the NPfIT,  Peter Hutchinson, Fujitsu’s then group director for UK public services, said that his company had been willing to continue with its original NPfIT contract – even when talks over the contract “re-set” had failed.

“We withdrew from the re-set negotiations. We were still perfectly willing and able to deliver to the original contract,” he said.

Asked by committee MP Richard Bacon why Fujitsu had withdrawn Hutchinson said, “We had tried for a very long period of time to re-set the contract to match what everybody agreed was what the NHS really needed in terms of the contractual format.

“In the end the terms the NHS were willing to agree to we could not have afforded. Whilst we have been very committed to this programme and have put a lot of our time, energy and money behind it we have other stakeholders we have to worry about including our shareholders, our pension funds, our pensioners and the staff who work in the company. There was a limit beyond which we could not go.”

The termination of Fujitsu’s contract left the NHS with a “gaping hole,” said the then chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Edward Leigh.

Thank you to campaigner Dave Orr for drawing my attention to the Telegraph article.

Comment 

In an era on open government it is probably not right for officials and ministers at the Cabinet Office and the Department of Heath to be allowed to secretly plunge their hands into public coffers to pay Fujitsu for a massive failure that officialdom is too embarrassed to talk about.

Why did the DH in 2008 end Fujitsu’s contract rather than renegotiate its own unrealistic gold-plated contract specifications? Should those who ended the contract be held accountable today for the settlement?

The answer is nobody is accountable in part because the terms of the dispute aren’t known. Nobody knows each side’s arguments. Nobody even knows for certain who has won and who has lost. Possibly the government has paid out hundreds of millions of pounds to Fujitsu on the quiet, for no benefit to taxpayers.

Is this in the spirit of government of the people, by the people, for the people?

Capgemini and Fujitsu pocket “incredible” £1.2bn profits from HMRC

By Tony Collins

In an outsourcing deal of then unprecedented size Inland Revenue contracted out about 2000 IT staff and services to EDS – now HP – in 1994.

The deal was worth about £1bn over 10 years. Later Inland Revenue joined with Customs & Excise and became HM Revenue and Customs. As part of the merger HP took over Customs’ IT which was largely run by Fujitsu. The £1bn outsourcing contract with HP turned into a £2bn deal.

In 2004 the merged contracts were called “Aspire” and Capgemini took over staff and IT services from HP in a 10-year deal expected to be worth between £3bn and £5bn.  The contract was later extended by 3 years to 2017.

Today a National Audit Office report Managing and replacing the Aspire contract says the deal is worth £10.4bn to Capgemini and Fujitsu.

Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, says of the NAO report on the Aspire contract:

“HMRC’s management of Aspire, its most important contract which provides 650 IT systems to help HMRC to collect tax, has been unacceptably poor.

“While it may have secured a good level of IT service in the end, by the time the contract ends in 2017 HMRC will have spent £10.4 billion – more than double what it initially expected to spend.

“What’s worse, it has spent £5 billion of this total without first checking whether other providers could deliver a better deal, even though it had evidence that it was paying above market prices.

“It is deeply depressing that once again a government contract has proved better value for the private companies involved than for the taxpayer, with Capgemini and Fujitsu pocketing an incredible £1.2 billion in combined profits – more than twice the profit HMRC expected.

“Its own lack of capability meant HMRC was over-reliant on providers’ technical expertise, undermining its ability to act as an intelligent customer on behalf of the taxpayer.

“HMRC is planning to replace the Aspire contract in 2017, but its new project is still half-baked, with no business case and no idea of the skills or resources needed to make it work. All of this gives me little confidence that HMRC’s senior team has the capability to manage large and complex contracts.”

“More changes than normal”

The NAO found that in more than 80% of projects, HMRC and Capgemini changed the agreed scope, time or budget. Says the NAO report:

“One feature of the cooperative approach between HMRC and Capgemini has been a willingness on both sides to make changes once the extensive planning is complete and budget, scope and timing has been agreed commercially.

“These changes are made through formal governance processes and usually help to educe risk. Some change is to be expected as part of good project management.

“However, we consider that HMRC and Capgemini made more changes than normal on projects after the point at which budgets, scope and timing had been commercially agreed. The degree of change makes it very difficult to hold the Aspire suppliers to account for their performance across the portfolio of projects.”

Managing and replacing the Aspire contract – NAO report

Good summary of NAO report at Computerworlduk

After two IT disasters, immigration officials launch £208m agile project

By Tony Collins

In 2001 immigration officials cancelled a £77m system with Siemens for a Casework Application system.

The objective had been to create a “paperless office”, help reduce a backlog of 66,000 asylum cases and provide a “single view” of individuals. But the scope was overambitious and the supplier underestimated the complexities. It proved difficult to automate paper-based processes.

In 2010 immigration officials came up with a similar scheme that also failed to meet expectations.  They developed a business case for a flagship IT programme called Immigration Case Work (ICW).

It was designed to draw together all casework interactions between the business and a person, enabling caseworkers to gain a single accurate view of the person applying. It was expected to replace both the legacy Casework Information Database (CID) and 20 different IT and some paper-based systems by March 2014.

A National Audit Office published today says the ICW programme was closed in
August 2013, having delivered “significantly less than planned for £347m.”

So in the end, while the taxpayer has paid hundreds of millions for caseworking systems for immigration staff, many of the workers are still, says the NAO, relying on paper.  Today’s NAO report says:

“Both directorates [UK Visas and Immigration and Immigration Enforcement, which were formerly the UK Border Agency] rely heavily on paper-based working.

“The Permanent Migration team is 100 per cent paper-based and acknowledge this as a barrier to efficiency.”

Immigration officials use some technology to record personal details of people who pass through the immigration system. But:

• A lack of controls mean staff can leave data fields blank or enter incorrect
information. The NAO found many errors in the database.
• There is a history of systems freezing and being unusable.
• A lack of interfaces with other systems results in manual data transfer or
cross‑referencing.

Agile success?

Now, says the NAO, the Home Office has begun a new agile-based programme, Immigration Platform Technologies  (IPT). It is due to cost £208.7 million by 2016-17.

A tool for online applications for some types of visa has already been rolled-out and is being updated using applicant feedback,” says the NAO.

But support contracts for the existing technology [the legacy Casework Information Database] expire in January 2016, before the scheduled completion of IPT in 2017.

The Home Office is “reviewing options for support contracts to cover this gap”.

Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, says of the agile project: “Given its poor track record, I have little confidence that the further £209 million it is spending on another IT system will be money well spent.”

Comment

Is it possible for a genuinely agile project to cost £208m? The point about agile is that it is supposed to be incremental, quick and cheap.  It looks as if the Home Office is running a hybrid conventional/agile programme, as the DWP did with Universal Credit. Either a project is agile or its not. Hybrids, it seems, are not usually successful.

There again is the Home Office congenitally capable of running an agile project?  The Agile Manifesto is based on twelve principles, most of which could be said to be alien to the Home Office’s culture:

1.Customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful software
2.Welcome changing requirements, even late in development
3.Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)
4.Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
5.Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
6.Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
7.Working software is the principal measure of progress
8.Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
9.Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
10.Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
11.Self-organizing teams
12.Regular adaptation to changing circumstances

So what’s needed?

Big government IT-based change programmes tend to be introspective and secretive. Those working on them don’t always feel able to challenge, to criticise, to propose doing things differently.

What would be innovative would be openness and independent challenge, and tough and well-informed Parliamentary scrutiny. It rarely happens. Ask the Home Office for any of its progress reports on its IT-base change programmes and it’ll tell you exactly what the DWP says when asked a similar question: “That’s not something we generally release.”

The NAO report points to a culture problem. “… Having a transparent culture was rated as red on the UK Visas and Immigration risk trends in April 2014.”

Will the new agile project be any more successful than the other 2 major immigration IT projects? The Home Office will doubtless claim success as it usually does. Even when the patient dies it tells Parliament the operation was a success.  For you can say publicly whatever you like when you keep the facts confidential – as IDS at the DWP knows.

Reforming the UK border and immigration system - National Audit Office report

Publish Universal Credit and other project reports, says ex-gov’t CIO

By Tony Collins

John SuffolkJohn Suffolk, the government’s former chief information officer, says warnings that publishing Universal Credit reports will have a chilling effect are “poppycock”.

His comments were prompted by the Department for Work and Pensions’ appeals against a ruling by the first-tier information tribunal that 4 reports on the Universal Credit programme be published.

The DWP has failed in every legal move it has made to stop the reports being published but is continuing its attempts although costs for taxpayers are increasing.

The DWP and its external lawyers argue that publishing the 4 reports would have a chilling effect by inhibiting the candour and boldness of civil servants who contribute to such reports.

But Suffolk says the claims of a chilling effect are “poppycock”. Suffolk was responding to a Campaign4Change blog “DWP tries again to stop disclosure of Universal Credit reports“.  He says:

“As you know I am a great fan of publishing all of the project reports. I note all of the comments on the “chilling effect” but this is poppycock.

“There is no chilling effect and if there was it would be countered by the extra scrutiny change programmes would receive by increased transparency. We should publish everything on projects and programmes.

“Transparency is a good thing. Government does complex work and more eyes on the problem would be a help not a hindrance, accepting we all need to know ‘who is the cook and who is the food critic’.

Suffolk was government CIO for nearly 5 years between 2006 and 2011 where he helped to steer an annual IT budget of billions of pounds.  He is now Head of Cyber Security/SVP at Huawei Technologies

His comments in full:

“It is such a shame that we have reached this position. Part of the Conservative Party (not the coalition) election thrust was on openness, transparency etc.

“Indeed some work has been done on this such as publishing the finance data, a summary report on major projects, but we appear to have gone backwards on no longer publishing an annual report for ICT spend, no longer publishing benchmark data – a prime driver that can reduce costs. According to the NAO some of what is published in terms of progress, is a little, how can I phrase this suspect.

“The realism is the only time a government can introduce transparency is at the beginning of a political cycle, this should have been executed at the beginning of the coalition as it becomes almost impossible to become transparent at the beginning of a new election cycle.

“A few words about UC. Before I left Government we reviewed the outline of UC as part of Francis Maude’s project control. I have to say the Ministers were excellent.

“They fully understood the policy objectives, fully understood the likely benefits and costs, understood the challenges but rightly deferred to officials on execution – how do we get from A to B.

“The Officials were far less impressive… Since then the ICT Team and Executive at DWP have gone through substantial change, the Civil Service have gone through a period of “transition” or “turmoil”; suppliers have gone through similar experiences and here we are trying to undertake one of the largest changes to the benefits system.

“We should not be surprised if there are a few wrinkles, nor should we be surprised if things move around a bit (what doesn’t – big or small) but what we should be surprised at is that Cabinet Office doesn’t appear to be backing the programme.

“I read with some mild amusement that GDS had taken their toys home and withdrew troops from “supporting” the programme.

“Excuse me, but isn’t this a flagship Programme? Won’t this programme save billions of pounds? Won’t this programme begin to change the something-for-nothing culture to nothing-for- nothing culture (unless there are real health reasons etc)?

“So we should have robbed all of the most talented resources of less priority programmes to support this. We didn’t. We went and sulked in the corner because they wouldn’t accept our ideas – instead we go and play around with websites and mess with tactical online services rather than focussing on the things that matter.

“You could also see this manifested in the major projects report where they singled out UC in a special category. Boys boys your job is to work together not squabble like little children.

“Get the best resources on UC, accept it is complex and dates will move around, take steady small steps and prove the programme and then get your shoulders behind it to make the implementation a success.

“Without doubt the Government have made many substantial improvements but when it comes to getting big changed implemented there is a long way to go.”

Millions of pounds of secret DWP reports

Judge refuses DWP leave to appeal ruling on Universal Credit reports