Category Archives: CIO

Why ignoring the human factor can lead to failed IT projects

By David Bicknell

In a column for the Wall St Journal, Frank Wander, a former CIO of the Guardian Life Insurance Company, has warned that ignoring the human factor is a sure route to the failure of IT projects.

He points out that, “Sixty years into the information economy, information technology projects, especially large ones, still fail, or under-perform, at disheartening rates. Trillions of dollars of collective project experience, and, what long ago, should have become a predictable undertaking, remains an area of dissatisfaction. Yet, the performance of our technology infrastructure (devices, networks, storage) has made quantum leaps forward over that same time period.”

He argues that workers are the most expensive, but least understood tool. In the insurance industry, for example, talent represents 63% of IT cost, according to a 2011 Gartner report.

He concludes: “As an industry, we must remove this blind spot, recruit the best talent, nurture it and unlock the full productivity potential by designing social environments where the chemistry enables IT to flourish. Companies that understand this, and embrace it, will win; the rest will compete in a race to the bottom.”

Shining a light into the darkest corners of wasteful IT projects

By David Bicknell

US federal chief information officer (CIO) Steven VanRoekel is adopting a novel approach to Government IT: innovate with less.

In a piece written for the The White House’s Office of Management and Budget, VanRoekel says he has learned lessons from the private sector on helping government learn private sector best practices, and in particular, how to buy IT.

“These agency successes are a good start, but we need to do more. We still face an unacceptable amount of duplicative and low-value IT.  That is why (we are)…. launching a new tool for agencies to use to assess the current maturity of their IT portfolio management process and make decisions on eliminating duplication across their organisations.

“This tool – which we’re calling “PortfolioStat” – gives agencies tools to look into the darkest corners of the organisation to find wasteful and duplicative IT investments.”

VanRoekel says the efforts are paying off.

“Over the past three years, the Federal Government has done much in adopting private sector practices to triage broken IT investments, reduce the IT infrastructure footprint, and innovate with less.

“For example, at today’s President’s Management Advisory Board meeting, the Department of the Interior showed that by modernising IT infrastructure and aligning resources to improve customer service, they will realise $100 million in savings from 2016 to 2020, for a cumulative total of $500 million. To date, there have been $11 million in cost avoidance by updating the scope of projects and $2.2 million in redirection of funds due to IT Spending Reviews.”

Over the next year, says VanRoekel, agency Deputy Secretaries or Chief Operating Officers (COO), must lead agency-wide IT portfolio reviews within their respective organisations, working in coordination with Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers, and Chief Acquisition Officers.

The level of executive sponsorship, VanRoekel says, “is a direct reflection of our belief that IT is a strategic asset that can dramatically improve productivity and the way agencies execute their mission. By June 15, agencies will complete a high-level survey of agency IT portfolio status and a bureau level information request for specific types of commodity IT investments that will used to baseline the maturity of agency portfolios.

“Then, using the portfolio data gathered combined with other data available at the bureau and agency level, COOs will establish targets for commodity IT spending reductions and deadlines for meeting those targets; illustrate how investments within the IT portfolio align with the agency’s mission and business functions; establish criteria for identifying wasteful, “low-value,” or duplicative investments; and improve governance and program management utilising best practices and, where possible, benchmarks.

“Though this process is new for Federal IT, leading private sector companies have been leveraging improved IT portfolio management tools for some time. Private sector organisations that waste millions on duplicative and low value IT are destined to disappear. Competitive pressure has forced change and efficiency.

“Though there are differences between public and private sector work, my time in both makes me extremely confident that the best practices from a well-run company can be applied effectively to the Federal Government.”

According to Nextgov.com, which reported VanRoekel’s attendance at the  FOSE  2012 conference on government technology,  US federal IT spending grew about 7 percent every year during the decade prior to 2009.

Since President Obama took office amid the 2008 financial crisis, federal IT spending has leveled off at about $80 billion annually.

“I’m proud to say that in the last three years on that flat or declining budget we’ve actually innovated a lot,” VanRoekel said.

Homeland Security Department CIO Richard Spires imposed a 10 percent cut in operations and maintenance spending across the department in the administration’s fiscal 2013 budget request to free up money for new initiatives.

VanRoekel said initiatives to consolidate federal data centres, shift more of the IT budget to cloud computing and a “maniacal focus on rooting out duplication” were allowing agencies to invest in new technologies.

The US Defence Department’s 2013 IT budget request, for instance, is down more than $1 billion, largely because the department cut costs associated with maintaining data centres.

PortfolioStat is an opportunity for CIOs and chief operating officers to look horizontally across an agency and identify places where services can more easily be shared,VanRoekel said.

According to Nextgov’s report, the U.S. Agriculture Department has moved from more than 20 separate email systems to only one cloud-based system during the past year and recently consolidated more than 700 mobile phone contracts into three blanket purchase agreements.

US Chief Information Officers Council

Nextgov.com

IT is from Venus, the Business is from Mars

By David Bicknell

Monday morning and another week for IT and the business to work together in the best interests of the organisation – though if you were to read this article from the Wall St Journal, you might think otherwise.

The  piece, “IT is from Venus, non-IT is from Mars”, by research scientist George Westerman from the MIT Centre for Digital Business, suggests  that in many companies, the relationship between IT and business leaders is a very troubled marriage. Miscommunication is rife, leaving executives struggling to figure out what’s working for the company, what’s not, and how to improve the situation.

The article argues that ‘the marriage’ can be saved, provided IT and business executives have a clearer understanding of the needs of both sides, how they work and the challenges they face. That means business leaders and IT executives must talk with each other about their operations and about how IT can help the company fulfill its goals, instead of talking past each other about how one side or the other is preventing that from happening.

The article cites four separate studies by researchers at MIT that show that transparency—clear communication about IT performance and decision processes—is the best predictor of the business value of IT. These studies all show that transparency creates an environment that improves both IT performance and the IT/Business relationship.

The article discusses four areas where IT and non-IT executives fail to understand each other clearly, and how transparency can help bridge the gap between two completely different interpretations.

On IT Cost and Performance:

The Business says: “IT costs too much; we’re not getting the service we’re paying for.”

IT says: “Given our budget constraints, we’re doing really well.”

On Risk Management:

Business says: “I want it this way.”

IT says: “We can’t do it that way.”

On Prioritisation:

Business says: “I need this right away.”

IT says: “Sure, but three other executives just told me the same thing.”

On Accountability:

Business says: “Why do you make me go through all of this bureaucracy?”

IT says: “Our methodologies are how we make sure everyone does the right thing.”

The article concludes that “creating transparency takes extra time and effort on everyone’s part, especially IT’s. But this is one project that definitely pays. Transparency around performance and decision processes improves the business value of IT and builds trust between business and IT people. As everyone learns to work better together, IT becomes part of the company’s business-level decisions and initiatives, not its own world. When that happens, the marriage of IT and the business side is really working.”

CIO behind FBI’s Agile-developed Sentinel IT project to leave his post

By David Bicknell

The US CIO behind one of the world’s highest profile public sector Agile IT projects is to leave his post and return to the private sector.

Chad Fulgham, CIO at the FBI will leave next month having overseen the creation of the FBI’s Sentinel case management system. Sentinel replaces the FBI’s outdated Automated Case Support system, with the hope that it will transform the way the FBI does business by moving it from a primarily paper-based case management system to an electronic work flow-based management system of record with enhanced data sharing capabilities.

“When I was hired as the CIO, it was understood Sentinel was going to be one of my top priorities,” said Fulgham. “Today, I can tell you the software coding is done, the new hardware is in place, and it has been quite impressive during initial performance testing. We have trained hundreds of FBI special agents and employees, and it will have a lasting impact on this organisation.”

In a press release announcing Fulgham’s departure, the FBI said that “using a progressive Agile software development methodology, partnering with industry, and employing an aggressive deployment schedule, Sentinel is scheduled to be implemented in summer of 2012.”

The US Inspector General recently issued a report into the use of Agile in the Sentinel project. You can read the report here

The US magazine Information Week has also covered the story

Lifting the lid on Agile within a public sector IT project

California’s long-running courts’ IT project faces final verdict

By David Bicknell

If there was one place in the world you’d think might be able to get an IT project to improve courts’ systems right, it would be California, the home of Silicon Valley.

Unfortunately not. According to the San Jose Mercury News, there is a risk of the plug being pulled on a proposed system which was intended to link courts to each other and the state’s Department of Justice, and which would replace paper court files with electronic documents, allowing judges ‘with a click of a mouse’ to check everything from criminal histories to child support payments around the state.

But the 10-year project, which has so far cost $560m is running out of money. And now California, which as a state is strapped for cash, and is imposing budget cuts that are closing courthouses, is ready to pull the plug on the project altogether. 

The state’s Judicial Council, which is the court system’s policy arm, will tomorrow weigh up its options and make a decision whether to continue with the Court Case Management System (CCMS) or end the project.

A state audit last year made a catalogue of complaints against the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts for its lack of lack of oversight. It said that the AOC had: 

  • Inadequately planned for the statewide case management project and did not analyse whether the project would be a cost-beneficial solution to the superior courts’ needs.
  • Was unable to provide contemporaneous analysis and documentation supporting key decisions on the project’s scope and direction.
  • Did not structure the development vendor’s contract to adequately control cost and scope—over the course of seven years, the AOC entered into 102 amendments and increased the cost from $33 million to $310 million.
  • Failed to develop accurate cost estimates—in 2004 the cost estimate was $260 million and by 2010 the estimated cost was $1.9 billion.
  • Had not obtained the funding needed for statewide deployment and without full deployment to the 58 superior courts, the value of the project is diminished.
  • Must gain better support from the superior courts for the project—the superior courts of Los Angeles and Sacramento counties asserted that they will not adopt the system unless their concerns are resolved.
  • Did not contract for independent verification and validation (IV&V) of the statewide case management project until 2004 and independent project oversight services until 2007. The level of IV&V oversight was limited in scope and duration.
  • The statewide case management project may be at substantial risk of future quality problems as a result of the AOC’s failure to address certain of the consulting firm’s concerns.

In a telling quote, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the Judicial Council’s chairwoman,  is reported to have said it may be time to reconsider the project, comparing it to having “a Ferrari in the garage, but we can’t afford the gas.”

The San Jose Mercury News reported that state lawmakers are now growing increasingly sceptical of paying for CCMS, with one committee last week voting unanimously to put most of the system upgrade on hold.

“Eight presiding judges, including those from trial courts in San Francisco, San Mateo and Los Angeles, last week urged the council to pull the plug,” the San Jose Mercury News said. 

When it was first approved more than a decade ago, the project was an ambitious one.  Its goal was to create one unified system for all of California’s trial courts. The upgrade had widespread support, including from the state’s then Governor Gray Davis, and California was flush with cash to pay for the project.

But as the project progressed, its cost increased, and it has since became a ‘lightning rod’ for California judges who have been absorbing more than $600 million in budget cuts over the past three years.

Now, the state wants to cut the judiciary’s losses and find less expensive ways to improve court technology, by, for example, allowing local judges to pick their own IT upgrades.

“Anyone will tell you, if you’re stuck in a hole, stop digging,” said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, a leader in the Alliance of California Judges, a CCMS critic. “We’ve spent 10 years on this project. It needs to be declared dead.”

However, the end of the project is not necessarily a forgone conclusion, proving the old adage that no failing IT project can easily be killed off. Now a separate audit released last week has suggested three more options:

  • Deploy the full CCMS program in one test county, San Luis Obispo, which would cost more than $20 million; or  
  • Install it in 10 counties, including Alameda, Marin and Santa Cruz, and wait for the end of the recession before taking it state-wide; or  
  • End the project now. 

The audit has however pointed out that with or without CCMS, many trial courts need technology upgrades that will cost some amounts of money. And it has projected that, by 2017, CCMS would save the state about $33 million a year by cutting the cost of everything from collecting fines to transferring court files from one county to another.

Florida’s IT projects consolidation continues at a glacial pace

By David Bicknell

US states’ recent history on IT projects has been a rollercoaster ride with more downs than ups.

The State of Florida’s recent experiences have mirrored those of  others. As this article details, Florida’s modernisation and consolidation of its IT systems has had its fair share of headlines.

“The tenures of the first two chief information officers were controversial. Both resigned; afterward, auditors found problems with how contracts and agency finances had been managed. The third CIO cancelled the questionable contracts, but the missteps left a shadow over the agency, and in 2005 the Legislature eliminated its funding.”

As the article points out, for many years,Florida’s individual departmental agencies made their own IT decisions, leaving the state with nearly two dozen data centres, 30 e-mail systems, 200 different IT groups and 150 websites. Bush believed merging those systems and centralising control of IT operations would make government more efficient and allow the state to take advantage of economies of scale.

But the process has been a slow one. Almost glacial. A new Agency for Enterprise Information Technology (AEIT) was set up to handle the consolidation efforts and create IT policy — but it has been restricted in its work, designed to be “a small agency with a small staff with a large mission in our hands,” according to  its CIO David Taylor.

The department, with a staff of just 16 and a budget of $1.6 million, cannot dictate what systems other agencies should use and purchase. Instead, its role is restricted to advising departments on strategies like bulk buying and working with agencies to standardise specifications for equipment to help facilitate volume purchases. The agencies, however, aren’t required to follow AEIT’s advice. And bigger IT targets — core business systems, accounting systems and licensing systems – remain untouched.

Taylor believes that the state would be better served by “one unified IT agency” with some teeth to do something — and he may eventually get his wish.

In December, the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force, a panel that provides cost-cutting strategies to the Legislature, recommended giving the agency budget and procurement authority for “enterprise” projects and services and giving it greater power to enforce its standards.

Florida’s modernisation of its IT systems may eventually pick up pace. But don’t expect miracles. Just a crawl.

Even Taylor accepts the need for an almost painfully steady-as-you-go approach. “We should demonstrate that we can be successful in our current consolidation efforts before taking on even greater challenges.”

Francis Maude reforms by saying “no” – a “massive” number of times

By Tony Collins

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has intervened to reject departmental projects a “massive” number of times says Ian Watmore, Cabinet Office permanent secretary and former Government CIO.

Evidence Ian Watmore gave to the Public Administration Committee last week suggests that the Cabinet Office’s saying “no” repeatedly to departmental projects has changed behaviours within the civil service.

Watmore, the Cabinet Office’s permanent secretary, told Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, that Francis Maude and his officials now have the power to challenge departments’ civil servants who try and ignore Cabinet Office recommendations.

“In the past, those controls did not exist so they [officials in departments and agencies] could ignore us if they wanted to and carry on as before,” said Watmore. “Under the new regime, they cannot do that because in the end, if they ignore the recommendations that we come to, then they have to seek approval for the expenditure they were going to make on their projects and Francis Maude would, in his own words, happily say ‘no’ in such situations, and say ‘no’ again until people actually came to the table and changed what they were doing.”

Elphicke: Has he done so to date?

Watmore: Yes, an absolutely massive number of times.

Changing behaviour

Since departments have found it harder to get the Cabinet Office to endorse their projects, departmental officials are now “bringing their plans to us much earlier in the timeframe because they do not want us saying ‘no’ when it is well advanced”,  said Watmore.

“So we are getting into a dialogue with them early on about what the best way of doing something is. When we have agreed on the best way of doing something, when it comes back for approval, it gets nodded through and that is working much more effectively.”

Watmore added that the Cabinet Office’s controls will become redundant over time “because people will behave the right way”. He said: “Like the Carlsberg complaints department was the analogy I had in my head; it exists but it is never used.. At the moment we use it a lot because, left to their own devices, people would do things that were suboptimal when you look at it from across Government.

“Francis Maude is in a position to say, ‘No, you are not doing that. You are going to do it this way and reuse somebody else’s system or somebody else’s way of doing things’. He is very hands-on and vigorous at doing that.

Comment:

Watmore’s evidence confirms that Maude remains the mainspring of change in the way government works. Without Maude the unreasonably costly status quo would prevail.  He may be in danger of spinning. But how many ministers like to say “no”? He is invaluable for that reason alone.

What will happen when Maude is promoted, stands aside or retires?  The minister who likes to say “yes”  will earn the respect of some of his civil servants. The refreshing thing about Maude is that he is happy to take his plaudits from taxpayers, not officialdom.

Watmore’s evidence to the Public Administration Committee, 13 March 2012.

Institute for Government open letter on civil service reforms – the problems and opportunities.

Zizzi Restaurant lands Corporate IT Forum award for innovative CSR project

By David Bicknell

Zizzi Restaurant picked up the IT project of the year  accolade in The Corporate IT Forum’s 8th Real IT Awards held last night.

Zizzi’s ‘Pennies with Zizzi’ project involved working with The Pennies Foundation to create an electronic charity box that allows customers paying by card to donate spare change to charity.  The corporate, social and environmental responsbility project is already on track to deliver £100,000 of micro donations to The Prince’s Trust.

According to the judges, drawn from leading UK and international user organisations such as South West Water, DHL, GlaxoSmithKline and Laing O’Rourke, “Zizzi showed its determination to create a way of supporting casual donations in the new age of electronic payment; they paid close attention to communications to make sure all stakeholders – particularly customers – would embrace it. We were very impressed by the way this was driven by the IT department.”

The Real IT award winners covered a broad spectrum of corporate IT users including public and private sector organisations such as HM Revenue and Customs, Balfour Beatty, The Environment Agency and British Sugar, as well as high street retailers New Look and Pizza Express.

The winning entries across 13 categories ranged from the world’s first ever iPhone app for payment by smartphone, to a targeted flood warning service for emergency flood responders and a rapid deployment of IT project in the new Tripoli.

The awards featured new categories to recognise the breadth of innovation being provided by and the growing importance of corporate IT within business.  The additions included Innovation in Business, Innovation in Mobile, Security as an Enabler and Social Media.

A new skills-related category, Developing Talent in Business, was also introduced, reflecting The Corporate IT Forum’s desire to tackle the education, training and skills challenge.  In this new category HM Revenue and Customs was recognised for its ‘Capability Development Programme’, a programme of investment in employees designed to establish them as experts in their chosen field, with external accreditation of their professional skills.

Chairman of The Corporate IT Forum John Harris said, “What is particularly striking this year is that the innovation we are seeing is in areas where IT is giving something back, rather than where it is solely focused on delivering cost savings and doing more with less.  This year IT is all about listening to user and customer needs – within the business and externally – and coming up with innovative ways to make things faster, easier and more efficient for them.”

Throughout the coming months the winners and runners-up will present their projects through Forum workshops that are open to all user organisations. By collating learning and sharing their experiences, the Corporate IT Forum suggests, corporate IT departments will become more proactive and successful in delivering business advantage for their organisations.

The Winners of the Real IT Awards:

Overall winner – Project of the year 2012

Winner: Zizzi Restaurant – Pennies with Zizzi

Runner-up: GlaxoSmithKline – Diseases of the Developing World

Corporate, Social and Environmental Responsibility

Winner: Zizzi Restaurant – Pennies with Zizzi

Delivering Business Value and E-Commerce

Winner: Land Registry – Register Extract Service

Developing Talent in Business

Winner: HM Revenue and Customs – Capability Development Programme

Innovation in Business

Winner: Environment Agency – Targeted Flood Warnings

Innovation in Mobile

Winner: Pizza Express – Pizza Express App

Innovation in Technology

Winner: Environment Agency – Targeted Flood Warnings

Partnership

Winners: GlaxoSmithKline – Diseases of the Developing World

And: The Co-operative Banking Group – The Big Card Programme

Rapid Response

Winner: Foreign & Commonwealth Office – Tripoli – Rapid Deployment of IT

Security as an Enabler

Winner: GlaxoSmithKline – Secure Enhance

Service Improvement

Winner: Balfour Beatty – Platform for Growth

Social Media

Winner: New Look – NL Daily

Working Smarter

Winner: British Sugar – Load Slots – Optiflex

A full list of winners and runners up is on the Corporate IT Forum website

Change division helps Bendigo Bank transform IT project outlook

By David Bicknell

A report from Australia has suggested that scrapping the chief information officer’s (CIO) role and replacing it with a change division enabled Bendigo Bank in Australia to slash its IT project failure rate.

According to an article in ITNews, establishing the change division  prompted better project delivery priorities and outcomes over the past two years, and may have  improved the rate of successful projects by 50 percent.

ITNews reported that, “In early 2010, the bank’s CIO Andrew Watts became the executive of a new ‘change’ division, which included 140 technologists, such as business analysts and project managers.

“Those technologists joined some 60 staff from elsewhere in the business, with the division aimed at overseeing business architecture and project delivery across ‘people, process and technology’.

“Other technologists formed a rebranded ‘technology services’ team, led by general manager Gary Doig and charged with managing the bank’s IT operations.”

Bendigo Bank believes that high business ownership across its projects has become  one of the most important foundations to deliver project success.

Related Links

Reuters: Banks team up to cut tech spend burden

ITNews (Australia) site

New child support system has 90,000 requirements – in phase one

                               A new old-style government IT disaster?

By Tony Collins

While officials in the Cabinet Office offcials try to simplify and cut costs of Government IT, a part of the Department for Work and Pensions has commissioned a system with 90,000 requirements in phase one.

The projected costs of the child maintenance system have risen by 85% and the delivery date has slipped by more than two years.

Even with 90,000 requirements, phase one, which is due to go live in October, excludes 70 requirements that are “deemed critical” says a report published today by the National Audit Office.

The NAO report indicates that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission has commissioned an old-style large IT system using traditional developing techniques and relying on large companies.

G-Cloud and SMEs have not featured in the Commission’s IT strategy – and it abandoned agile techniques last year on its child maintenance project.

The Commission put the cost of its new child maintenance system at £149m in January 2011. Ten months later it put the cost at £275m, an 85% increase. The Commission was unable to give the NAO a full explanation for the difference.

Lessons from past failures not learned?

Today’s NAO report says there is a risk the Commission will repeat mistakes by the Child Support Agency whose IT system and business processes were criticised in several Parliamentary reports. The Commission takes in the work of the Child Support Agency – and indeed runs its own systems and the Child Support Agency’s in parallel.

Officials at the Commission told the NAO they have a good track record of holding back IT releases until they are satisfied they will work.  “Nevertheless, we found that the Commission is at risk of repeating many of the mistakes of 2003,” said the NAO. Those mistakes include over-optimism and a lack of internal expertise to handle suppliers.

Mixing “agile” and “waterfall” doesn’t work

Initially civil servants at the Commission tried to “mix and match” agile and traditional developing techniques – which Agile advocates say should not be attempted.

In 2011 the Commission gave up on agile and “reverted to a more traditional approach to system development” says the NAO report.

The mix and match approach meant there were two distinct routes for specifying requirements and “resulted in duplicated, conflicting and ambiguous specifications”.  The Commission did not have previous experience of using the agile approach.

The Commission’s child maintenance system was due to go live in April 2010 but the delivery date has slipped three times. Phase one is now due to go live in October 2012 and phase two in July next year but the NAO report raises questions about whether the go-lives will happen successfully. The Commission has not planned in its financial estimates for the failure of the system.

The NAO finds that the Commission has struggled to make its requirements for the new system clear. The Commission’s main developer Tata Consulting Services has had protracted discussions over the meaning and implementation of requirements.

The NAO also hints that IT costs may be out of control. It says the Commission may not secure value for money without properly considering alternative options for restructuring and “adequately controlling its IT development …”

These are some of the NAO’s findings:

IT costs could increase further

“The new system is based on ‘commercial off-the-shelf’ products. However, a recent audit by Oracle identified that the performance, maintainability and adaptability of the new system would be key risks. This could increase the cost of supporting the system. The scheme does not yet include plans for the integration with HM Revenue & Customs’ Real Time Information system due to be implemented in 2013, or introducing Universal Credit because of the differing timescales,” says the NAO which adds:

“Achieving the Commission’s plans without further cost increases or delays appears unlikely. The Commission reported to the audit committee in October 2011 on the high risk that the change programme may not deliver phase two functionality within agreed timescales … The Commission did not develop a benefits realisation plan until November 2011.”

103,000 of Commission’s 1.1m cases are handled manually

“Ongoing technical problems have resulted in a large number of cases being removed from the IT system and managed manually. These are known as clerical cases … The Commission has had to operate the ‘old’ and ‘current’ schemes in parallel.  Due to flaws in the IT systems for each scheme, some 100,000 cases have had to be processe:d separately by clerical staff at a cost of £48 million,” says the NAO. It takes 900 contractors to manage the clerical cases.

Comment

Despite numerous NAO reports on failures of Government IT-based projects over the past 30 years the disasters are still happening, with the same mistakes repeated: over-optimism in every aspect of the project including timetables and financial estimates; excessive complexity and over-specification, no sign of cost-consciousness and, worst of all, an apparent indifference to being held accountable for a major failure.

A glance at the monthly outgoings of the Commission (well done to the coalition for requiring departments and agencies to publish contracts over £25,000) show sizeable and regular payments to familiar names among the large suppliers: HP Enterprise Services (formerly EDS), Capgemini, Tata Consultancy Services, BT Global Services and Capita. There is hardly an SME in sight and no sign of imaginative thinking.

Meanwhile some senior officials at the Commission put in monthly expenses for thousands of pounds in travel, accomodation and subsistence for “Commission meetings”. One wonders: to what useful effect?

Officials at the Cabinet Office are trying to change the culture of departments and agencies. They are encouraging departmental heads to do things differently. They advocate the use of  SMEs to show how new ways of working can trounce traditional approaches to projects.

But the Cabinet Office has little influence on the Department of Work and Pensions. Indeed the DWP has lost its impressive chief innovator James Gardner.

We praise the NAO for noting that the Commission risks repeating the IT-related and project management mistakes of the Child Support Agency. But we note with concern that the NAO still puts up with Whitehall’s non-publication of  Gateway reviews, which are independent reports on the progress or otherwise of big and risky IT-based projects.

Would the Commission have been so apparently careless of the risks if it had known that regular Gateway reports on its shortcomings would be published?

How many more government IT-based projects are late, over budget and at risk of failing, their weaknesses hidden by an unwritten agreement between the coalition and civil servants to keep Gateway reviews secret?

NAO report – Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission: cost reduction

Government repeating child support mistakes – ComputerworldUK