Category Archives: openness and transparency

Is IDS losing his cool over Universal Credit IT?

By Tony Collins

IDS was polite and calm, almost deferential, when he went before MPs of the Work and Pensions Committee in September 2012.  “Can I say it is always a privilege to be here?” he said.

At at Monday’s hearing of the same committee, though, he was at times tetchy, patronising and mildly bullying. “I don’t think this committee can run the department,” he replied when asked why he hadn’t told the committee in 2012 of problems with the Universal Credit IT project.

Several times he talked over the MP who was asking him questions, with the result neither could be clearly heard.

[If he’s like that at meetings with DWP officials would anyone want to tell him something he doesn’t want to hear? Perhaps his loss of cool on Monday reflected the baffling complexity, and rising costs, of the waterfall part of  Universal Credit’s  IT programme.]

IDS might also have been shaken by the absence of his most authoritative ally, Howard Shiplee, who has been off sick since shortly before Christmas.

Hidden 

Over a period of more than a year, the DWP and IDS fed the work and pensions committee good news about progress on the Universal Credit IT project. The truth didn’t surface until the National Audit Office published its report on UC in September 2013.

Unknown to the committee in 2012, the DWP was struggling at that time to set out how the detailed design of systems and processes would fit together and relate to the objectives of Universal Credit. This was raised repeatedly in 2012 by internal audit, the Major Projects Authority and a supplier-led review. The committee wasn’t told.

Hence Dame Anne Begg, the softly-spoken chairman, came to Monday’s meeting with a direct question. Why, when IDS came before the Work and Pensions committee in September 2012, did he make no mention of having commissioned a red team review into the Universal Credit project several months earlier.

“Because it was an internal review,” replied IDS. “We were looking the results of that and trying to take whatever decisions were necessary. It was about some of the issues that were going on in the UC team…”

Begg: “But why didn’t you tell us a review was going on?”

IDS: “I don’t tell the committee everything that is happening within the Department until we have reached a conclusion about what is actually happening.”

Begg: “It was an ideal opportunity when you appeared before us in September [2012] that you could have said there were concerns about what was happening with Universal Credit but at that session you were very bullish about how successful everything was.”

IDS: “I still remain very confident about how successful it will be. [Note a difference in tenses between the question and answer]. At the time we were working out how we would make the reset.”

Sir Humphrey

At IDS’s sided was Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary at the DWP, who seemed at times a parody of Sir Humphrey. [Animated in the delivery of some of his answers Devereux looked as if he was saying something interesting until you listened to the words.]

One MP asked Devereux why the DWP had given written evidence to the committee in 2012 that Universal Credit was on track when it wasn’t. Devereux said that UC was a large and complex programme. “You are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating your forward plans … as you go along things change.” MPs were none the wiser.

Misled?

Begg [to IDS]: Did you not think it appropriate that this scrutiny committee of the House of Commons, which oversees the work the department does, [should have been kept] informed about changes?

IDS: “With respect we did keep the Committee informed as and when we had clarified what we were actually doing and what we thought the problem was and where it existed and how you isolate it and what changes you made. I don’t for one moment agree in any way at all that we hid stuff. We knew we would be accountable to the committee and all would become public… I don’t think this committee can run the department.”

Begg pointed out that IDS had failed to mention a report of the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority in February 2013. That report had notified the DWP of flaws in UC governance, management and programme design – despite the same matters having been raised in previous MPA reports.

Begg:  “You gave oral evidence to us on 10 July [2012] … but you did not refer at that session to the critical Major Projects Authority report or the reset which had already taken place earlier that year.”

IDS: “I cannot remember what I said to the committee. I have no desire to look back.”

Begg said the DWP told the committee that the pathfinder projects demonstrated that the IT systems worked. “You cannot get any more definitive than that,” said Begg. IDS gave no clear answer.

Obfuscation

T9DFQDU8Mid-way through the hearing, the mood of some of the exchanges was summed up by Labour MP Debbie Abrahams who told IDS:

“I cannot say with the strongest feeling my concern about the hubris that you have demonstrated in the tone to this committee. You haven’t explained, certainly to my own satisfaction – anybody who is watching will draw their own conclusions – you have not given any satisfactory explanation about how you have informed, or kept this committee informed, about the difficulties the department was experiencing.

“There have been obfuscation and smoke and mirrors even up to a few weeks before the report from the National Audit Office [in September 2013]. The memorandum that was released in August – this was clearly saying everything was fine and dandy. It is clearly not. I give you one more opportunity to answer, so you can explain to this committee, why such poor information is provided by your department.”

IDS replied: “I just don’t agree with you, and I don’t agree that we have done anything else but be open and honest about what the issues are, as and when they have been identified and what we would do about them as and when we have made our decisions about them…

Open?

“When we found something wrong we went and sorted it out. As we sorted it out we made clear direction about that, and eventually through the NAO, the PAC [Public Accounts Committee and the [Work and Pensions] committee.

“I think we have been pretty open about it. I don’t think there’s anything more. In fact in a sense we are going round and round in circles here at this committee hearing at the moment.”

Begg:  “We are not convinced you have got it sorted out.”

Comment

Monday’s hearing shows how ministers and officials justify the hiding of reports on costly IT-enabled projects that are going wrong. IDS didn’t even tell MPs in July 2013 that the Major Projects Authority had four months earlier recommended an immediate pause in the programme.

Most worrying of all, officials and IDS seem content that the DWP gave the work and pensions committee – in September 2012 and July 2013 – a good news story on the state of the Universal Credit IT project while truth about the project’s problems stayed hidden.

IDS suggested it was not necessary to tell MPs about reports until ministers have “reached a conclusion about what is actually happening” That may be never.

It’s time for public accounts and work and pensions MPs to insist on seeing Major Projects Authority reviews, and other reports, on the progress or otherwise of big government IT-enabled programme such as UC. MPs should not have to wait for an NAO report to get the truth.

Governments, whatever their hue, will always refuse to publish these reports contemporaneously, such is the will of departmental heads. They have been refusing to publish the reports for more than 20 years.

But if MPs keep insisting with an unbreakable tenacity on their publication  – and for publication before they are out of date – it may eventually happen, and gone will be the power of ministers and officials to mislead MPs on the state of big IT-enabled programmes.

Until publication happens, is there much point in MPs questioning IDS or his officials on the UC IT programme? They will get only the public relations version of the truth.

 

Dare anyone criticise this IT project – with the CEO as leader?

By Tony Collins

Croydon Health Services NHS Trust has had mixed success with its go-live of the Cerner Millennium system.

It is said to be a technical success but last week board members of the Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group expressed concerns about ongoing problems with the system.

Fouzia Harrington, director of quality and governance told the Croydon Advertiser: “The implementation [of Cerner] itself went well in technical terms, but there have been some implications about how it has been used by staff.

“It’s had far more impact in terms of the time it takes to book people in, for example. There have also been implications in terms of lost information about patients.

“There has been a lack of information about hospital activity, which has an impact on finances and, potentially,the quality of services patients are receiving…”

David Hughes, a lay member of the board, was not satisfied with that reassurance.

“You say that no harm has occurred,” he said,  “but while we’ve had no direct incident so far, patient care has definitely suffered.

“You talk about increased waiting times and there’s a risk that harm may occur because of the difficulty in getting in touch with clinicians who actually know what is going on with the patient.

“I’m very concerned from a quality point of view that our main provider has a serious problem with its information systems.”

Hughes called for action. Although the trust may not be aware of an incident yet it may “come out through further investigation that there has been”.

Some waiting times have increased,  the CCG cannot be certain of exact levels of activity at the hospital, and missing information has made it difficult to commission some services.

The concerns were raised at a board meeting on Tuesday.

Dr Tony Brzezicki, chairman of the CCG, said new system would eventually lead to improvements.  “Hospital patients had five sets of notes before. That in itself posed a risk that Cerner will mitigate,” he said.

“However, there have been administrative delays which mean longer waiting times for patients.There are also issues for the service to primary care which is a significant risk. Some of the problems have been resolved though I am concerned at the time scale because they are certainly impacting on my practice.”

Success

John Goulston is the Croydon Health Services NHS Trust CEO. One of his previous jobs was as Programme Director of the London Programme for IT at NHS London. The LPfIT was formerly part of the National Programme for IT. 

As well as CEO, he chairs the trust’s Informatics Programme Board which has taken charge of bringing Cerner Millennium to Croydon’s community health services and the local University Hospital, formerly the Mayday.

Goulston reported to his board that the Cerner go-live - on 30 September and 1 October last year – was a success.

“Our partners Cerner, BT and Ideal have commented that the Trust has undertaken one of the most efficient roll-outs of the system they have worked on, with more users adopting the system more quickly and efficiently than other trusts … the success we have achieved to date is the result of the efforts of every single system user and all staff members,” said Goulston.

Goulston has said the trust deployed the “largest number of clinical applications in a single implementation in the NHS”. 

The Department of Health provided central funding, and the trust paid for implementation “overheads”.  The Health and Social Care Information Centre was the trust’s partner for the go-live.

The Croydon Advertiser asked Croydon Health Servicesa series of questions about Cerner, including its cost to the NHS, but was sent a short statement.

A spokesman told the Advertiser the system would improve patient administration and means that nurses have access to “quality, detailed information” when delivering care.

He added: “During the initial switch over of systems in September while staff were getting used to the system, some patients did need to wait slightly longer to check in for their clinic appointments.

“The trust has maintained and surpassed our 18 week referral to treatment targets from the initial roll out.”

Croydon’s response

Campaign4Change put some questions to the Croydon trust. These are the questions and its responses: .

Is the trust being completely open – taking seriously the duty of candour -  about problems arising from the Cerner Millennium go-live?

“The Trust takes its duty of candour on all issues very seriously; we believe that transparency is essential in running a modern NHS organisation. We are held to account by our board at public meetings, where the public are able to attend and question our senior management team, by our local health overview and scrutiny committee and our commissioners.

“Recent press coverage on CRS Millennium appeared in the local press when the system was discussed in a public meeting of our commissioners.”

As the CEO is leading the Cerner Millennium project, does this make it difficult for trust staff and trust directors to say anything even mildly critical about the implementation?

“Staff opinions on the implementation of CRS Millennium, both positive and negative, are welcomed by the Trust. Staff have given their frank opinions of the system directly to the Chief Executive both in our monthly all staff meetings and at the open staff engagement surgeries held by our Chief Executive and Chairman. All staff opinions are taken seriously and are acted upon appropriately.”

Given the CEO’s enthusiasm for the implementation is there a special onus on the press office to defend the implementation and play down problems? [I note that the Croydon Advertiser implied its questions had not been answered, and that the Trust gave a short statement instead.]

“The communications team respond to and facilitate a large number of external requests, including from the media, in a transparent, timely and appropriate manner. This same approach is followed on questions about CRS Millennium.

“CRS Millennium will bring about many improvements to patient care and Trust efficiency and we are enthusiastic about communicating these; it is unfortunate that recent press coverage did not consider these positive benefits in any depth.”

A comment on the Croydon Advertiser’s website says:

“When I checked in to out-patients I supplied all my personal details; however the post code I gave was declared invalid by the new system. That filled me with confidence. I also gave my contact as a mobile; however they tried to ring me using an old landline number.”

Comment

It’s generally accepted that having a high-level sponsor for an IT project is essential but when the lead is the CEO, does that make it difficult for people to challenge and constructively criticise?

A “good news” culture tends to prevail – as happened on Universal Credit, on the BBC’s Digital Media Initiative, and within the Department of Health on the NPfIT. Nobody dared to speak the whole truth to power. The truth tends to surface only when a new administration takes over or, in the case of Universal Credit, the minister obtained his own independent reports on project progress.

Campaign4Change put it to the Croydon trust that board directors see reports on the Cerner implementation only every two months and much can happen in the intervening period. This it did not deny.

Even if the trust’s directors met daily would they dare to challenge the CEO? And will the full facts  ever emerge? Things could be much better than CCG directors believe  - or much worse.

After nearly every major NPfIT implementation of the Cerner Millennium system in London and beyond (such as North Bristol) the facts were scarce, and reassurances that no patients had come to harm were plentiful. 

Here we go again?

**

Should lessons have been learned from these Cerner go-lives?

Barts and The London

Royal Free Hampstead

Weston Area Health Trust

Milton Keynes Hospital NHS Trust

Worthing and Southlands

Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust

Nuffield Orthopaedic

North Bristol.

St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust

Birmingham Women’s Foundation Trust

NHS Bury

GPs asked to contact hundreds of patients who may have missed treatment after hospital’s cancer referrals blunder  - Pulse

London LMCs alert over Imperial cancer waits mix-up – Pulse.

GPs kept in the dark over hospital cancer blunder – Pulse

 IT system has increased waiting times and led to lost patient data.

Patient records go-live success – or NPfIT failure

Are Govt IT-based project disasters over? Ask the Army

By Tony Collins

When senior civil servants know an IT-based project is in trouble and they’re unsure how bad things are, they sometimes offer their minister an all-encompassing euphemism to publicly describe the status of the scheme – teething.

Which may be why the defence secretary Philip Hammond told the House of Commons in November 2013 that the IT project to support army recruiting was having “teething” problems.

Now Hammond knows more, he says the problems are “big”. He no longer uses the “t” word. Speaking about the £440m 10-year Recruitment Partnering Project in the House of Commons this week Hammond said:

“Yes, there are big problems with the IT and I have told the House on repeated occasions that we have IT challenges…”

Only a few days ago Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude suggested that Government IT was no longer a byword for disaster, though he accepted there were still challenges.

In a speech on how he expected the UK to become the G8′s most digital government by next year (whatever that means) Maude said: “… it’s great news that DVLA is about to launch online driving records which can be used by anyone with a driving licence as well as by the insurance industry.

“Back in 2010 our digital offering was limited at best and government IT was a by-word for disaster … There are still challenges but with the help of the Government Digital Service I am determined that the UK will be the G8′s most digital government by next year.”

A few days later The Times reported on a leaked Gartner report on the army Recruitment Partnering Project. The report expressed concerns about the entire plan, including a poor project management team and delays that were allowed to spiral out of control.

It claimed that the Army’s recruitment division had failed to challenge MoD policy in 2011 that had apparently favoured the less suitable of the two competing bidders chasing the contract.

Hammond is said to be mulling over a £50m payout for Capita to build a new infrastructure for the recruiting system instead of trying to integrate it with systems supplied by the “Atlas” consortium under the Defence Information Infrastructure project. Hammond told the House of Commons this week:

“… there have been initial difficulties with that recruiting process as we transition to the new recruiting arrangements with Capita.

“In particular, we have encountered difficulties with the IT systems supporting the application and enlistment process. The decision to use the legacy Atlas IT platform was deemed at the time to be the quickest and most cost-effective way of delivering the new recruitment programme.

“An option to revert to a Capita hosting solution was included in the contracts as a back-up solution.

“I was made aware in the summer of last year that the Army was encountering problems with the integration of the Capita system into the Atlas platform. Since then we have put in place a number of workarounds and mitigation measures for the old IT platform to simplify the application process, and we have reintroduced military personnel to provide manual intervention to support the process.

“Having visited the Army’s recruitment centre in Upavon [Wiltshire] on 30 October, it became clear to me that, despite the Army putting in place measures to mitigate those problems in the near term, further long-term action was needed to fix the situation.

“It was agreed in principle at that point that the Atlas system was not capable of timely delivery of the Capita-run programme and that we would need to take up the option of reverting to Capita building a new IT platform specifically to run its system, which will be ready early next year.

“… we have already taken action to bring in a range of new initiatives that will make it progressively easier and quicker for applicants … the introduction this month of a new front-end web application for Army recruitment; a simplified online application form; more streamlined medical clearance processes …

“With an improved Army recruitment website, streamlined medicals and an increase in the number of recruiting staff, recruits should see a much-improved experience by the end of this month.

“.. we are looking at further ways of improving the management of the recruiting process in the intervening period before the introduction of the advanced IT system now being developed in partnership with Capita, which is expected to be deployed in February 2015…”

Vernon Croaker, Labour’s defence spokesman, said the recruitment project was an IT fiasco. He wondered why Hammond had initially described the problems as teething.

vernon croaker “Today we have learned [from newspapers] that the problems are even worse than anyone thought and still have not been fixed.

“Will the Defence Secretary tell the House which Minister signed off the deal and who has been responsible for monitoring it?

“… Will the Secretary of State also confirm that £15.5m has been spent building the existing flawed computer system behind the project? Finally, is it correct that this continuing disaster is costing taxpayers £1 million every month?…”

Croaker quoted a minister Andrew Robathan as telling MPs on 10 April 2013 that the “Recruiting Partnering Project with Capita…will lead to a significant increase in recruiting performance”.

Croaker said: “Is there any Member of this House, any member of our armed forces or, indeed, any member of the British public who still believes that?”

In March 2012 Capita announced that the Recruitment Partnering Project was valued at about £44m a year for 10 years and was expected to deliver benefits in excess of £300m to the armed forces. It would “release military recruiters back to the front line” said Capita.

Comment. Francis Maude is probably right: there don’t seem to be as many big IT-based project failures as in previous decades. But then the truth isn’t known because progress reports on big IT-related schemes are not published.

Indeed little would be known about the Capita Recruitment Partnering Project is not for the leaked report to The Times. Without the leak, public information on the state of the project would be confined to Hammond’s “teething problems” comment to MPs last November.

Internal and external reports on the state of the Universal Credit IT project continue to be kept secret.  It’s not even clear whether ministers are properly briefed on their big IT projects. Hammond almost certainly wasn’t last year. IDS was left to commission his own “red team” review of Universal Credit IT.

Perhaps the “good news” reporting culture in Whitehall explains why the NHS IT scheme, the NPfIT, continued to die painfully slowly for 7 years before senior officials and ministers started to question whether all was well.

Hammond is still getting wrong information. He described “Atlas” systems in the House of Commons as the “legacy IT platform”.

The Atlas contract for the Defence Information Infrastructure was awarded in 2005 for 10 years. It doesn’t even expire until next year. It may be convenient for officials to suggest that the reason Capita has been unable to link new recruitment systems into the DII network is because DII is old – legacy IT.  But the multi-billion pound Atlas DII project cannot be accurately described as “legacy” yet.

If ministers don’t get the truth about their big IT projects until serous problems are so obvious they can no longer be denied, how can Parliament and taxpayers expect to get the truth?

Lessons from NASA?

NASA put in place processes, procedures and rules to ensure engineers were open and deliberately adversarial in challenging assumptions. Even so it has had difficulties getting engineers to express  their views freely.

Diane Vaughan in her excellent book “The Challenger Launch Decision” referred to large organisations that proceeded as if nothing was wrong “in the face of evidence that something was wrong”.  She said NASA made a series of seemingly harmless decisions that “incrementally moved the space agency towards a catastrophic outcome”.

After the loss of Challenger NASA made many changes. But an investigation into the subsequent tragedy of the Columbia space shuttle indicated that little had actually changed - even though few of the top people who had been exposed to the lessons of Challenger were still in position.

If NASA couldn’t change when lives depended on it, is it likely the UK civil service will ever change?  A political heavyweight,  Francis Maude has tried and failed to get departments to be more open about progress or otherwise on their big IT-based projects.  Permanent secretaries now allow the out-of-date “traffic light” status of some projects to be published in the annual report of the Major Projects Authority. That is not openness.

The failure so far of the Recruitment Partnering Project, the routine suppression of information on technology-based scheme such as this, and the circumscribed “good news” briefings to ministers, suggest that government IT-based project failures are here to stay, despite the best intentions of the Cabinet Office, GDS and the Major Projects Authority.

Thank you to campaigner Dave Orr for his email on the recruitment project

Universal Credit: more IT uncertainties

By Tony Collins

Shortly after IDS was in the House of Commons yesterday defending his handling of the Universal Credit project – taking an all is well approach – the National Audit Office issued a report that drew attention to the scheme’s uncertainties, write-offs on IT so far of £41.3m, and the five-year depreciation of a further £91m spend on IT that may not be used after the migration from legacy, or transitional, UC systems to in a new “digital” solution.

The legacy Universal Credit  IT infrastructure is a blend of existing DWP IT and technology adapted to UC.

The DWP had originally expected to depreciate the £91m over 15 years but, suggests the NAO, the legacy Universal Credit IT infrastructure may be of little use after 2017/2018.   

Says the NAO:

“…  the underlying issue [is] that the Department has spent £91.0 million on assets that will only support a limited service for 5 years, with clear consequences for public value.”

On what the NAO report calls the “longer-term programme uncertainties” it says that the “overall cost of developing assets to support Universal Credit is subject to considerable uncertainty”.

It adds:

“The Department acknowledges  … that there is uncertainty over the useful economic life of the existing Universal Credit software pending the development of the alternative digital solution and uncertainty over whether Universal Credit claimants will be able to migrate from the current IT infrastructure to the new digital solution by December 2017.”

The NAO’s report on the DWP’s 2012/2013 accounts also notes the uncertainties with the new digital solution. Says the NAO:

“At this early stage in its development, there are uncertainties over the exact nature of the digital solution, and in particular:

- How it will work;

- When it will be ready;

- How much it will cost; and

- Who will do the work to develop and build it.

A Ministerial Oversight Group has approved a spend of between £25m and £32m on the new digital UC solution up to November 2014. DWP officials and suppliers plan to build a core digital service that will deliver to 100 people by then, after which it will assess the results of that work and consider whether to extend the service to increasing numbers.

The NAO suggests that some of the money spent on the new digital solution may also end up being written off.  Says its report:

“As the Department develops the digital solution, so it will start to recognise some of the costs incurred as assets. Without clear and effective management, in the future the Department may also find it needs to impair some of these new digital assets.”

At a hearing of the Work and Pensions Committee on Monday Iain Duncan Smith depicted the write-off of £40m on UC software code so far as normal for any large organisation in the private or public sector that embarks on a major software-based programme.  IDS said that private sector organisations typically write off a third of the money spent on software on a large project. About £120m has been spent on writing UC software code so far.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO,refers in his report to the “considerable sums that the Department is proposing to invest in a programme where there are significant levels of technical, cost and timetable uncertainty”.

He adds:

“I reiterate both the conclusion and recommendations from my report in September. The Department has to date not achieved value for the money it has incurred in the development of Universal Credit, and to do so in future it will need to learn the lessons of past failures …”

In a short debate on UC in the House of Commons yesterday Rachel Reeves, Shadow Work and Pensions secretary, suggested Iain Duncan Smith was in denial about being in denial.  She put points to him he did not answer directly.

She said that IDS had told the House of Commons on 5 September 2013 that UC will be delivered in time and on budget. On 14 October IDS made the same claim. Reeves said:

“How on earth can this be on time when in November 2011 he [IDS] said:  ‘All new applications for existing benefits and credits will be entirely phased out by April 2014.’

“We have now learned that this milestone will only be reached in 2016. Will the secretary of state confirm that this is a delay of 2 years? … How can the secretary of state say that Universal Credit will be on budget when even by his own admission £40.1m is being written off on IT [software code]? What budget heading was that under?”

Reeves said IDS also revealed on Monday that another £90m will be written off by 2018. She added:

“ …The underlying problem is surely that the secretary of state has not resolved key policy decisions before spending hundreds of millions of pounds on an IT system… the secretary of state is in denial. Doubtless he’ll deny he is in denial….

IDS replied:

“ I said all along and I repeat: this programme essentially [jeers] is going to be on time. By 2017 some 6.5m people will be on the programme receiving benefits.”

He added that UC will roll out without damaging a single person. “The waste we inherited was the waste of people who didn’t listen, rushed programmes and implementing them badly.”

Dame Anne Begg, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said that IDS promised UC would be digital by default. “It isn’t,” she said.

“He promised that all new claims would be on UC by May 2014. They won’t…  So why should anyone believe him when he says that delivery of UC is now on track?”

IDS replied: “The proof of this will be as we roll it out…”

Comment

IDS is doing what he has to do: defend the UC project at all costs; and the NAO is doing what it needs to do: highlight the uncertainties and wasted spending.  If IDS admits to his doubts and concerns the opposition will jump on him. At least he is not being kept in the dark any longer by his senior civil servants.  He has his own reliable information – via Howard Shiplee – and from the NAO.  In 2011 he commissioned his own independent “red team” review which led to the pilot Pathfinder projects.

But the uncertainties highlighted by the NAO’s report today could be said to tacitly confirm that the transfer of all relevant claimants to UC project is unlikely to be complete before 2019/2020 at the earliest.  That’s probably not something anyone in government could own up to before the 2015 general election.

And even his advisers may not tell IDS that big government IT projects can be defined by the exceptions. IDS told MPs yesterday that Pathfinder projects indicated that 90% of people are claiming universal credit online and 78% are confident about their ability to budget with monthly payments. That’s 10% who don’t claim online and 22% who may not be able to manage with monthly payments. Will the high number of exceptions prove a show-stopper?

There’s a long way to go before officials and ministers can have confidence in UC IT. But, unlike the NPfIT which had little support in the NHS, most of those involved in the UC project want it work. That could make all the difference. 

Will Universal Credit be complete by 2020?

By Tony Collins

Comment

Much of what Iain Duncan Smith said at the Work and Pensions Committee yesterday made sense. In essence the DWP’s plan is to delay putting most of the  claimants onto the Universal Credit system until the technology is proven to work.

But there is little evidence it will work at scale, handling reliably and accurately millions of claimants and complex cases. It emerged yesterday that the DWP has still not yet agreed with suppliers a specification for the UC systems, and the latest business case has yet to be approved. How can anyone say on the basis of the limited work so far that the technology will work?

And Howard Shiplee,  Director General of Universal Credit, made the point yesterday that the technology is only part of the story. For UC to work there have to be changes in culture, operational procedures within the DWP and the retraining of tens of thousands of staff.

IDS is doing what various sets of ministers and officials did during the distended failure of the NHS’s £11bn computer programme, the National Programme for IT [NPfIT]: in assuring Parliament all was well they always used the future tense. The programme “will” give everyone in England an electronic patient record. But nothing was delivered that provided evidence the promises would be fulfilled. It took a new government to admit the NPfIT was a failure.

UC differs from the NPfIT in a crucial way. The NPfIT did not need to work. It was conceived at the top without support from the NHS. Many hospitals didn’t want centrally-bought IT foisted on them. The NPfIT was wanted, in the main, by a small number of politicians, officials and big suppliers. UC is needed and wanted. Simplifying the horrifying complex benefit systems has all-party support. Shiplee is right when he says UC has to work. But he didn’t yesterday commit himself to a timeframe.

The last major benefits computerisation project – called “Operational Strategy” – took about 10 years to finish. It did not achieve the promised financial benefits and benefit systems were not combined as originally intended but, in the end, the technology worked well for its time.

If UC does work there’s every reason to believe it will be in a similar timeframe to Operational Strategy: about 10 years. But could IDS keep his job while saying UC will be fully delivered in 2020 or beyond? I doubt it.

DWP’s Universal Credit PR line – all is now well

By Tony Collins

The Department for Work and Pensions has submitted a statement to the Work and Pensions Committee, ahead of its hearing this afternoon on Universal Credit, that indicates all is now well with the scheme.

At the hearing today MPs will put questions to Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, Howard Shiplee, Universal Credit Director General, and Mike Driver, Finance Director General.

MPs on the committee tend to ask gentle questions of Duncan Smith who is expected to say little or nothing negative about the current state of the scheme. His department’s statement to the committee says that the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts produced reports on Universal Credit that were“entirely historical”. 

Under the  new leadership of Shiplee, the Department had “already taken comprehensive action to address issues subsequently cited in both the NAO and PAC reports, including strengthening governance, improving supplier management and tightening financial controls”.

About 6,000 “new” computers in Jobcentres are being installed so that claimants can look and apply for jobs online, as well as make online claims.

“From October we started implementing Digital Jobcentres, beginning in Hammersmith. The Department will continue to roll this out across the whole Jobcentre Plus network, with all sites converted by October 2014.”

The DWP says that in the trials so far 90% of claims were being made online, “with the majority of these completing their application at the first attempt”.

The DWP will “further develop the work started by the Government
Digital Services to test and implement an enhanced online digital service”.

It adds: “The current planning assumption is that the Universal Credit service will be fully available in each part of Great Britain during 2016, having closed down new claims to the legacy benefits it replaced; with the majority of the remaining legacy caseload moving to Universal Credit during 2016 and 2017.

“Final decisions on these elements of the programme will be informed by the
development of the enhanced digital solution.”

Comment:

The DWP and particularly IDS appear locked into the “good news” culture that the health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned about  in the light of the Francis report’s criticism of a “lack of candour” in the NHS.

Before most of the big IT-related disasters in central government, the NPfIT for instance, sets of ministers and senior civil servants praised progress of the projects and dismissed Parliamentary reports as historical.

It’s to IDS’s credit that he has conceded that the 2017 deadline for all claimants to be on Universal Credit will not be met. He didn’t have to admit this. By 2017 IDS may have retired from politics for all we know. But still his optimism may be grossly misplaced.

The signs are that all claimants will not on UC before 2019 at the earliest – and that is subject to the resolution of numerous IT and business practice issues. The NAO report “Universal Credit: early progress” hinted at some of them.

Indeed the NAO revealed that:

“The Department does not yet know to what extent its new IT systems will
support national roll-out.” The signs are the DWP still doesn’t know – and may not know for several years.

The last big benefits computerisation project – Operational Strategy – took about 10 years to complete. It did not achieve the promised financial benefits and benefit systems were not integrated as originally intended but the technology worked well in the end.

There is every reason to believe that the UC  project will have a similar roll-out timeframe. But will IDS ever discuss all the current uncertainties and shortcomings with UC technology?

Patient records go-live “success” – or a new NPfIT failure?

By Tony Collins

John Goulston says the go-live of a new patient records system at his trust is a “success”.

He should know. He’s Chief Executive of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust. He’s also chair of the trust’s Informatics Programme Board which has taken charge of bringing Cerner Millennium to Croydon’s community health services and the local University Hospital, formerly the Mayday.

He was formerly Programme Director of the London Programme for IT at NHS London – a branch of the NPfIT.

In a report two weeks ago Goulston said the trust deployed the “largest number of clinical applications in a single implementation in the NHS”. Croydon went live with Cerner Millennium on 30 September and 1 October 2013.

Said Goulston in his report:

“Administrative functions do not engage clinicians; providing them with a suite of clinical functionality has been justified as each weekday approx. 1,000 staff are logged on and using the system. CHS [Croydon Health Services] has in Phase 1 deployed, in addition to patient administration, the largest number of clinical applications in a single implementation in the NHS England.”

BT helped install Millennium at Croydon under the National Programme for IT.  The trust’s spokesman says the Department of Health provided central funding, and the trust paid for implementation “overheads”.  The Health and Social Care Information Centre was the trust’s partner for the go-live.

The Centre is the successor for Connecting for Health. It has taken on CfH’s officials who continue to help run the NPfIT contracts with BT and  CSC.

Goulston said that Cerner and BT have paid tribute to the trust which installed Millennium in A&E, outpatients, secretarial support and cancer services, and elsewhere.

“Our partners Cerner, BT and Ideal have commented that the Trust has undertaken one of the most efficient roll-outs of the system they have worked on, with more users adopting the system more quickly and efficiently than other trusts … the success we have achieved to date is the result of the efforts of every single system user and all staff members,” said Goulston.

Best Cerner implementation yet?

Optimistic remarks about their launch of Cerner Millennium were also made in 2012 by executives at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust.  Their optimism proved ill-judged.

Of the Millennium go-live at Royal Berkshire, trust executives said that it “had been considered to be the best implementation of Cerner Millennium yet and that despite staff misgivings, the project was progressing well”.   This positive message should be disseminated, they said.

Months later they told the Reading Chronicle of patient safety issues and a financial crisis arising from the Millennium implementation.

A Royal Berkshire governors Rebecca Corre was quoted as saying: “There is a patient safety issue when staff write down observations and then there is an hour before they can get it onto the computer. If it is an experienced nurse, they may pick up a problem, but others may not.”

Ed Donald, Chief Executive of Royal Berkshire was quoted as saying:

“Unfortunately, implementing the EPR [electronic patient record] system has at times been a difficult process and we acknowledge that we did not fully appreciate the challenges and resources required in a number of areas.”

Are executives and managers at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust  now similarly afflicted with an unjustified optimism about the success of their Cerner go-live?  

Past consequences of NPfIT go-lives hidden?

The Department of Health has claimed benefits for the NPfIT of £3.7bn to March 2012 but there have been trust-wide failures: thousands of patients have had their appointments, care or treatment delayed by difficulties arising from past implementations of patient record systems under the NPfIT.  For thousands of patients waiting time standards have been exceeded or “breached” because of disruption arising from troubled go-lives.

In nearly every case trusts made it difficult for the facts to come out publicly. Vague or unexplained fragments of information about the consequences of the NPfIT implementation appeared  in different board papers over several months. The facts only emerged after a journalistic investigation that required scrutiny of many board papers and follow-up questions to the trust’s press office.

So Campaign4Change investigated Croydon Health’s implementation of Cerner Millennium to see if the Francis report’s call for a “duty of candour” over mistakes and problems in the NHS have made any difference to the traditional fragmentation of facts after NPfIT go-lives of patient record systems.

The Francis report called for “openness, transparency and candour“.  Trusts were told not to hide sub-standard practices under the carpet. The health secretary Jeremy Hunt said it can be “disastrous” when bad news does not emerge quickly and the public are kept in the dark about poor care.

To my questions about the Cerner Millennium implementation Croydon trust’s spokesman always responded promptly and tried to be helpful. But it appears that trust executives have given him limited information about consequences of the go-live, and have preferred to indulge the “good news” NHS culture that Jeremy Hunt warned about.

On being asked what problems the trust has faced since the go-live the spokesman gave various answers that made no mention of the problems.

“All of our staff received training on the system, and we are continuing to offer our teams support as it is embedded.”

What of the problems arising from the implementation, and has the board been fully informed?

“Millennium has featured regularly on the Corporate Risk Register presented to each Part 1 Board meeting.   In addition, implementation has received detailed confidential consideration at Part 2 of Board meetings, (which is why you won’t find it in our public board papers).”

Given Francis’s call for duty of candour,  should the trust be more open about its problems?

“The initial roll out for CRS Millennium was introduced over three days at the Trust, with a phased approach.  We did this to ensure the system was working in each department, before introducing it in another area.

“We are monitoring waiting time performance and records management so we can identify any issues if they emerge. The system is still being introduced in some services and when this is completed we will be able to assess the overall programme,” said the spokesman.

Does Croydon’s unwillingness to give in its statements to me any details of problems indicate that the culture of a lack of transparency in the NHS will be hard to change, no matter how many times Jeremy Hunt talks about the need for candour when things go wrong?

The spokesman:

“I’d like to be clear about the Trust’s approach:

  • The Trust board has been cited on the roll out of CRS Millennium and any potential risks throughout the process.  As I previously noted, the board received an update in September.  The board meeting, which will take place on Monday of next week, will receive a further update from the Chief Executive.  The papers from this meeting will be published on our website and the meeting takes place in public;
  • A meeting chaired by the Chief Operating Officer has reviewed any operational matters arising on a daily basis.  This is an internal meeting for clinicians and managers which has informed the implementation process;
  • Patients and visitors to the hospital have been kept fully appraised of the introduction of the system and were made aware that they may experience some delays to the check-in process while staff became familiar with the new computer system;

“These actions would suggest that the Trust has been transparent in its approach.  You are welcome to review the board papers when they are published.”

Serious problems now emerge

Croydon did indeed publish its board papers on 25 November 2013 – which is to its credit because not all NHS trusts publish timely board papers.

But it’s mostly in the small print of various board papers that details emerge of Millennium-related problems. The shortcomings are mentioned as individual items rather than in a single, detailed Cerner Millennium deployment report.  This leaves one to question whether trust directors have an overview of the seriousness of the difficulties arising from its implementation of a new patient records system.

These are some excerpts from deep inside Croydon’s latest board papers:

Breaches in waiting time standards

- “CRS Millennium (Cerner) Deployment -Network downtime – Week 1.  In particular, the significant network downtime in week 1 (BT N3 problem) led to no electronic access to Pathology and Radiology which resulted in longer waits for patients in the Emergency Department (ED) leading to a large number of breaches. This was a BT N3 problem which has been rectified with BT providing CHS with the required scale of N3 access (>600 concurrent users and >1,600 users on any day – which is the largest network usage of any trust in England).”

- • “Hospital Based Pathways: The deployment of CRS Millennium was a particular challenge in the month across the multiple service areas within the Directorate of A&E, Surgery and Maternity.

• “Cancer & Core Functions: With the implementation of CRS Millennium, the open pathways part of RTT [referral to treatment – patient waiting times) may fail the standard – validation will be completed after the narrative for this report... “

Excessive waits in A&E

- “The main drivers adversely affecting the performance in the month [October 2013) for A&E were the deployment of CRS Millennium and the commencement of winter pressures due to the seasonality change.  A&E  4-Hour Total Time in Department Target: 95.00%. Actual: 91.57%.”

Over budget

“The Trust position as at October is an adverse variance of £4.1m. This is a significant deterioration on the Month 6 position. The movement is mainly due to a significant reduction in income mainly as a result of operating issues caused by the Cerner deployment (£0.9m)...  Actual £14.8 (£14.8)m; Budget £10.7m; Variance £4.1m.”

“Cerner Millennium: Plan YTD [year-to-date] £245,000; Actual YTD  £621,000;

Significant loss in income

“… A new patient administration system was deployed in the Trust on the 30th September and 1st October (Cerner Millennium). The deployment has resulted in significant loss in income in September and October £ 1.1m. Trust performance on Activity Planning Assumptions and Key Performance Indicators is substantially worse than plan …”

Extra costs

“Medical £412k and admin £148k agency levels continue to be high due to cover for vacancies, annual leave, sickness and release of staff for Cerner training. The Trust has also incurred additional costs associated with the Cerner deployment (£600k) including overtime payments to administration staff and training costs.”

Bid to recover Cerner costs?

“… The Trust is currently forecasting a deficit position of £17.8m, which is £3.3m off the plan submitted to the NHS Trust Development Authority. This is a £3m movement from the month 6 forecast and is as a result of operational issues caused by the Cerner deployment. The current projected impact is an additional costs £1.7m and a loss in activity £1.1m . An application is to be made to recover the additional cost/losses relating to the Cerner deployment [of £2.9m] …”

HSCIC support for delays

“Cerner Millennium – Revised implementation date to Sept 2013 (achieved) ,with resultant additional costs including additional PC requirements of £146k, specialist support services £300k, procurement costs £91k, data cleansing costs £200k.

“Health& Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has confirmed support for the delayed implementation will be provided, accounting treatment of support to be confirmed with Department of Health.”

More money to stabilise operational position?

“As a result of operational issues caused by the Cerner deployment , Income is significantly reduced in October. The forecast assumes that the Trust will resume normal operating levels from November and that an element of the income lost will be will be recovered in the latter part of the year. A business case is being submitted to the Trust Board for additional investment in Cerner to stabilise the operational position.

“If there are further operational issues due to the Cerner deployment then this will significantly impact on the year end forecast…”

Over-optimism?

Principal risk -reporting output from Cerner is not accurate or timely. Officer in charge: CEO. Before go-live risk scores: June 2013 – 16; July – 16; Aug  – 10; Sept – 10. After go-live risk score (for Oct): 20 [high risk of likelihood and consequences]

Principal risk – operational readiness following the implementation of Cerner. Officer in charge: COO.  Before go-live risk score 15. Post go-live: 20. Risk rating before go-live – Green. After go-live – Red.

Red risks

Corporate Risk Assurance Framework

Nine risks are reported as Red [two of which relate directly to Millennium]:

“… Reporting output from Cerner is not accurate or timely. Data migration was successful. However reliance on external provider as internal knowledge has not yet been fully gained. A data quality dashboard with exception reporting is in place.

“… Operational readiness following the implementation of Cerner CRS Millennium impact conveyed to Trust Development Authority e.g. ED [Emergency Department] reporting and cost overruns

Risk scores

- Failure of CRS millennium to deliver anticipated benefits – 12. Officer in charge: CEO

- Reporting output from Cerner is not accurate or timely – 20. Officer in charge: CEO

- Operational readiness following the implementation of Cerner – 20. Officer in charge: COO

Croydon’s trust’s response to problems

Said John Goulston, Croydon’s CEO, in his latest [November 2013] report to the board of directors:

“The issues being encountered now with CRS Millennium are not due to any lack of integration testing with legacy applications or testing of workflow. They can be attributed to changing from a 25 year old Patient Administration System (Patient Centre) which did not require working in real time, was simple and intuitive to use, easily configurable and flexible to our needs.

“CRS Millennium’s patient administration functions are almost the complete opposite and the language used is new for our staff i.e. conversations, encounters etc. For our staff it has been a big ask for them to step into and up to such a complex application.”

He added: “The benefits of the new system are that each patient will have a single accurate electronic record that can be viewed and kept up-to-date by hospital and community clinical staff. This will eventually mean less time searching for patient notes, missing documentation and duplicating patient information…

“As with any massive change, there are still some challenges to tackle in making the system work effectively for every single user, in a diverse and complex organisation.

“However the success we have achieved to date is the result of the efforts of every single system user and all staff members. I would like to thank all our staff for their hard work in getting the Trust to this important stage.”

The trust spokesman gave me this statement on the problems:

“The Trust board has been given regular reports on the roll out of CRS Millennium and any potential risks throughout the process, not least through its regular reviews of the Corporate Risk and Board Assurance Frameworks.  As I previously noted, the board received a specific update in September.

“As you already know, November’s board meeting received a further update from the Chief Executive.  The papers from this meeting were published and the meeting takes place in public;  Those attending are invited to put forward questions.

“A meeting chaired by the Chief Operating Officer continues to review operational matters.  This is an internal meeting for clinicians and managers which has informed the implementation process;

“Patients and visitors to the hospital have been kept fully appraised of the introduction of the system and were made aware that they may experience some delays to the check-in process while staff became familiar with the new computer system;

“As you highlight from the board report, Cerner & BT noted that ‘the Trust has undertaken one of the most efficient roll-outs of the system they have worked on’   The papers also note some operational challenges as the system was rolled out.  These have been addressed as part of the daily meetings I reference above – these are mainly concerned with users familiarising themselves with the system and have been addressed through the support and training staff received.

“In terms of the costs, the introduction of CRS Millennium has been supported by central funding from the Department of Health with the Trust paying the implementation overheads.   These costs are a matter of public record and the Trust publishes annual Accounts as part of its Annual Report.”

Comment

When you go into hospital it’s reassuring to know the directors will be well informed and open about problems that could affect you.

The approach of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust to openness about its problems is not reassuring. It is no better or worse than other trusts that have implemented Cerner’s Millennium. In fact the timely publication of its board papers means it is more open than some.

But it should not require a time-consuming journalistic investigation to establish the consequences for patients of an NPfIT go-live. It has required just such an investigation after the go-live of Millennium at Croydon.

Board directors will not have the time to dig for, and piece together, information about internal problems that could delay patient appointments, treatment and care. They need the unpalatable facts in one place. Croydon Health Services has failed to make it easy for patients or board directors to see what has gone wrong.

NPfIT deployments at other trusts have led, cumulatively, to thousands of patients having appointments that were disrupted, or who had to wait longer to be seen than necessary, or whose records were not available, or who were seen with another patient’s records.

In shying away from telling the whole truth trusts take their cue from the top: the Department of Health has always made it hard to establish facts about anything to do with the NPfIT.  Said the Public Accounts Committee in its report The National Programme for IT in the NHS: an update on the delivery of detailed care records systems in July 2011:

 “It is unacceptable that the Department [of Health] has neglected its duty to provide timely and reliable information to make possible Parliament’s scrutiny of this project.

“Basic information provided by the Department to the National Audit Office was late, inconsistent and contradictory.”

Unanswered questions

Croydon has questions to answer, such as how many breaches of waiting time standards it has had, and may still be having, due to problems arising from the go-live. Other unanswered questions:

- What does a “a large number of breaches” in the Emergency Department mean? Have each the patients affected been told?

- Why are the risks related to the implementation much higher after go-live than before, given that the trust has had years to prepare for the go-live, and the many lessons it could have learned from other trusts?

- Exactly what problems are still affecting patients?

In a post-Francis NHS, Jeremy Hunt has demanded openness about mistakes and problems. There is an agreed need for change – but how can Hunt change an NHS culture – indeed a public sector culture – in which senior executives, in troubled IT implementations, will always emphasise the good news over the bad, perhaps hoping the bad will always remain hidden?

Did DWP mislead MPs and media over Universal Credit?

By T0ny Collins

Today’s report of the all-party Public Accounts Committee “Universal Credit: early progress” goes beyond criticisms of the scheme in a National Audit Office report of the same name on 5 September 2013.

Public Accounts MPs say the Department for Work and Pensions gave “misleading interviews to the press regarding progress after it became aware of difficulties with the programme”.

And as recently as July 2013 the “Department denied that there were problems with the programme’s IT when it gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee”.

These criticisms are against a background of the DWP’s refusal to publish any of the many internal and external reports the department has commissioned on the project’s progress, problems and challenges since 2011.

The Times today says that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and members of his parliamentary team are “understood to have approached at least three Tory MPs on the cross-party [Public Accounts] committee to ask them to ensure that Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, was singled out for censure”.  In the end there was only limited criticism in the PAC report of Devereux – under his formal title of “Accounting Officer”.

Comment

If the DWP has been misleading the press, giving incorrect evidence to Parliament, and keeping secret its reports on the problems and challenges facing one of the government’s most important IT-based programmes – all of which seem to be the case – is it an institution that regards itself as uniquely outside the democratic process?

On big IT projects, officials are not motivated by money and concern for their jobs as are private sector boards of directors. When a private company gets it wrong and loses tens of millions on a project, the share price may fall, individual bonuses may be hit, and jobs, including the CEO’s, may be at risk.

In the public sector getting it wrong rarely has any implications for officials. They have only the threat of departmental embarrassment as a deterrent to getting it wrong. But they need not fear even embarrassment if they can mislead the press and Parliament and keep secret all their internal and external reports.

If a lack of transparency, culture of denial, and the misleading of Parliament continue to characterize big risky IT-based ventures in central government, one has to ask whether Whitehall is congenitally ill-suited to running such programmes.

The Public Accounts Committee warned in a report in 1984 about the risks of large public sector computer programmes. That report came after a series of project disasters.

So what has been learned in the last 30 years – other than that central departments are poorly equipped managerially – or democratically – to handle big IT-based programmes and projects?

These are some of the Public Accounts Committee’s findings:

MPs try to be positive

“We believe that meeting any specific timetable is less important than delivering the programme successfully. There is still the potential for Universal Credit to deliver significant benefits, but there is no clarity yet on the amount of savings it will achieve.”

Culture of denial

“The programme had also developed a flawed culture of reporting good news and denying that problems had emerged. This culture resulted from the desire of senior staff within the programme to show publically that they were able to push the programme forward, at the expense of ensuring that adequate controls were in place or listening to concerns raised about its delivery.

“Although the Department has tried to tackle this culture, it gave misleading interviews to the press regarding progress after it became aware of difficulties with the programme, and as recently as July 2013 the Department denied that there were problems with the programme’s IT when it gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee.”

Shocking absence of control over suppliers

“There has been a shocking absence of control over suppliers with the Department neglecting to implement basic procedures for monitoring and authorising expenditure…

“The Department recognises its supplier management has been weak, risking value for money.  Four main suppliers – Accenture, IBM, Hewlett Packard and British Telecom - have provided IT systems for Universal Credit, and by March 2013 the Department had paid them £265m out of the £303m spent with suppliers on IT systems.

“In February 2013 the Major Projects Authority found no evidence of the Department actively managing its supplier contracts, resulting in suppliers being out of control and financial controls not being in place.  The Department has yet to provide a comprehensive assessment of how much of this expenditure has proved nugatory, although the Major Projects Authority believes it will be a substantial figure running into hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Lack of oversight

The lack of oversight allowed the Department’s Universal Credit team to become isolated and defensive, undermining its ability to recognise the size of the problems the programme faced and to be candid when reporting progress…

“Oversight has been characterised by a failure to understand properly the nature and enormity of the task, a failure to monitor and challenge progress regularly, and a failure to intervene promptly when problems arose.

“Senior managers only became aware of problems through ad hoc reviews, mostly conducted by external reviewers, as inadequate management information and reporting arrangements had not alerted them that things were amiss.

“Given its huge importance to the Department, the Accounting Officer [Robert Devereux] and his team should have been more alert to identifying and acting on early warning signs that things were going wrong with the programme

Blinkered culture remains?

“Risk was not well managed and the divergence between planned and actual progress could and should have been spotted and acted upon earlier. The Department only reported good news and denied the problems that had emerged. The risk of a similarly blinkered culture remains as the Department will be working to tight timescales to get the programme back on track.”

Problems hidden

“It is extremely disappointing that the litany of problems in the Universal Credit Programme were often hidden by a culture prevalent in the Department which promoted only the telling of ‘good news’.

“For example, officials were aware that a critical report highlighting many of these issues had been discussed internally for months. Indeed, there are real doubts over when officials became aware of these problems and it is difficult to conceive, based on the evidence we were presented with, that officials within the Department did not know of them before July 2012.”

Shocking absence of financial and other controls

“There has been a shocking absence of financial and other internal controls and we are not yet convinced that the Department has robust plans to overcome the problems that have impeded progress.”

Did the DWP do anything well?

“The Department initially adopted a piecemeal approach to delivering the programme.

“In 2011 it identified over a hundred different types of users for Universal Credit, and initially sought to design IT solutions for each set of circumstances individually. It was only in early 2012 that the Department decided to stand back and try to establish a clearer picture of what the programme’s overall shape might look like.

“During the summer of 2012 the Department became aware of the problems that Universal Credit faced. It was first alerted by concerns raised in a supplier-led review, commissioned by the Secretary of State, which reported in July.

“The Department subsequently established that the programme’s progress was stalling because there were a number of unresolved issues which had become intractable, particularly relating to the level of security needed for identity assurance and protection against fraud and error and cyber-attack.

“The Department had been previously unaware of the programme’s difficulties because its internal lines of monitoring, intervention and defence, intended to identify and mitigate such problems, were not working properly. Governance arrangements were not remotely adequate, and the Accounting Officer [Robert Devereux] discussed progress with the head of the Universal Credit programme only every two or three weeks.

“The Department had inadequate performance information to scrutinise and challenge the programme’s reports of its progress, so internal reporting arrangements did not flag up that things were amiss. The Department’s corporate finance undertook insufficient work to ensure there was an appropriate control environment in place, and the Department’s process for ministers to sign-off higher-value contracts was weak.

“The Department’s senior management had relied on ad hoc reviews, mostly conducted by external reviewers, which only provided an occasional snapshot of the programme, instead of ensuring effective internal systems were in place to monitor and challenge progress. However, during 2012 the problems surfaced more clearly as the Universal Credit team became unable to respond to recommendations made by such reviews.”

Will Universal Credit ever work?

“The Department remains uncertain about key details of its final plans. It does not know how much can be delivered online, when this will be available, and what activities will continue to require face-to-face meetings.

“ The Department also does not know what the final cost of the IT will be, or the savings the programme is expected to deliver. Nor does it know when it will close down the other benefits that Universal Credit will replace.”

The Department has a target of enrolling 184,000 claimants on Universal Credit by April 2014 and has launched limited pilot schemes.”

Says the PAC report: “The current rate of progress is significantly below target, however. Only around 2,500 claimants were registered at the time of our hearing in September, and the Department was unwilling to speculate what number will be enrolled by next April.”

In a steady state Universal Credit is expected to deal with 10 million people in about 7.5 million households, making 1.6 million changes in circumstances each month.

Security versus usability

“The Department is aware that the system must include suitable security arrangements if Universal Credit is to operate effectively and deliver its intended benefits.  However, the Department has not yet finalised such a solution, and was unable to say when two key components – those countering fraud and error and confirming claimants’ identity- would be completed.

“The Department has found it particularly hard to establish the right balance between security and usability. The development of an effective security system has been hindered by security not being integral to the design of IT components from the outset, but instead being retro-fitted into systems, and suppliers working on different assumptions and to different standards. To address this, the Department told us it has now brought security issues together in one place, with one senior official responsible for overseeing this part of the programme.”

DWP response to PAC report

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told the BBC

“This report doesn’t take into account our new leadership team, or our progress on delivery,” it said. “We have already taken comprehensive action including strengthening governance, supplier management and financial controls.”

The DWP said it did not accept “the write-off figure quoted by the committee” and expected it to be substantially less”.

A spokesman for Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC that he had “every confidence” in the team now running the programme, including Mr Devereux – whose position  some newspapers have suggested is under threat.

“Both the National Audit Office and the public accounts committee acknowledged a fortress mentality within the Universal Credit programme,” he said.

“Iain was clear back in the summer about how he and the permanent secretary took action to fix those problems.”

PAC report: Universal Credit: early progress

National Audit Office report: Universal Credit: early progress

More IT-based megaprojects derail amid claims all is well

By Tony Collins

If one thing unites all failing IT-based megaprojects in the public sector it is the defensive shield of denial that suppliers and their clients hold up when confronted by bad news.

It has happened in the US and UK this week. On the Universal Credit  project, the minister in charge of the scheme, Lord Freud, accepted none of the criticisms in a National Audit Office report “Universal Credit: early progress”.   In a debate in the House of Lords Lord Freud quoted from two tiny parts of the NAO report that could be interpreted as positive comments.

“Spending so far is a small proportion of the total budget … and it is still entirely feasible that [universal credit] goes on to achieve considerable benefits for society,” said Lord Freud, quoting the NAO report.

But he mentioned none of the criticisms in the 55-page NAO report which concluded:

“At this early stage of the Universal Credit programme the Department has not achieved value for money. The Department has delayed rolling out Universal Credit to claimants, has had weak control of the programme, and has been unable to assess the value of the systems it spent over £300 million to develop.

“These problems represent a significant setback to Universal Credit and raise wider concerns about the Department’s ability to deal with weak programme management, over-optimistic timescales, and a lack of openness about progress.”

And a shield of denial went up in the US this week where newspapers on the east and west coast published stories on failing public sector IT-based megaprojects.  The LA [Los Angeles] Times said:

As many as 300,000 jobless affected by state software snags

“California lawmakers want to know why Deloitte’s unemployment benefits system arrived with major bugs and at almost double the cost estimate. The firm says the system is working.”

The LA Times continued:

“Problems are growing worse for the state’s Employment Development Department after a new computer system backfired, leaving some Californians without much-needed benefit cheques for weeks.”

The Department said the problems affected 80,000 claims but the LA Times obtained internal emails that showed the software glitches stopped payment to as many as 300,000 claimants.

Now lawmakers are setting up a hearing to determine what went wrong with a system that cost taxpayers $110m, almost double the original estimate.

Some blame the Department’s slow response to the problems. Others point the finger at a Deloitte Consulting.

The LA Times says that Deloitte has a “history of delivering projects over budget and with problematic results”. Deloitte also has been blamed, in part, for similar troubles with upgrades to unemployment software in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Florida, says the paper.

“We keep hiring the same company, and they keep having the same issues,” said Senator Anthony Cannella.  “At some point, it’s on us for hiring the same company. It’s faulty logic, and we’ve got to get better.”

In 2003 California planned to spend $58m upgrading its 30-year-old unemployment benefits system. By the time the state awarded Deloitte the contract in 2010  the cost estimate had grown by more than $30m.

The Department handed out $6.6bn to about 1 million unemployed Californians in 2012. The software was expected to ease the agency’s ability to verify who was eligible to receive benefits.

Problems began when the Department transferred old unemployment data to the new system. The software flagged claims for review — requiring state workers to manually process them.

The LA Times says that officials thought initially the workload would be manageable, but internal emails showed the agency was quickly overwhelmed. Phone lines were jammed. For weeks, the Department’s employees have been working overtime to clear the backlog.

A poor contract?

In a contract amendment signed two months ago California agreed to pay Deloitte $3.5m for five months of maintenance and operations costs. Those costs should have been anticipated in the contract said Michael Krigsman, a software consultant who is an expert on why big IT-based contracts go awry. He told the LA Times:

“It’s a striking oversight that maintenance was not anticipated at the beginning of the contract when the state was at a much stronger negotiation position.”

By the time the middle of a project is reached, the state has no choice but to stick with Deloitte to work out bugs that arise when the system goes live, he said.

System works

Loree Levy, a spokeswoman for the Department, said the system is working, processing 80% of claims on time. As for the troubles, she said, “There is a period of transition or adjustment with any large infrastructure upgrade like this one.”

Deloitte spokeswoman Courtney Flaherty said the new California system is working and that problems are not the result of a “breakdown or flaw in the software Deloitte developed”.

System not working?

While there seems to be no project disaster in the eyes of the Department and Deloitte Consulting, some of the unemployed see things differently. One wrote:

“I am a contract worker who had to fight for my unemployment benefits. I won my case and yet they still cannot pay me… It’s been more than 3 weeks since I won my appeal and as of this moment, I am owed 13 weeks of back payments. To add insult to injury, they cannot send me current weeks to certify and they refuse to even try to help me to get back into the online system.

“I blame Deloitte, but it is California that carries the heaviest burden of fault… We’re nearing November and they still haven’t fixed an issue that began over Labor Day? Nonsense!

“This is untenable for everyone affected …We are owed reparations as well as our money at this point. It’s a funny word, affected. That means families and individuals are going hungry but can’t get food stamps or welfare. It means evictions and repossessed cars. It means destroyed credit, late fees, years of turmoil and shame for people already dealing with unemployment. Shame on you California.”

Another wrote:

“ … Not communicating is NOT an answer. Unemployed individuals caught up in the nightmare were told to be patient.  Rents and other expenses were still accumulating.  But [when you] add on additional fees: late fees, restoral fees, interest fees, etc…….you get the picture.

“Dear Governor Brown,

“Please reimburse me for all additional fees I’ve had to absorb to survive this fiasco.  You are going to make me payback any overpayments, but ignore the cost to the unemployed taxpayer.  This is  appears to unfair.  Perhaps Deloitte should pay us back from their contracted funds before they receive their final payment.  I am saving all of my receipts to deduct from my 2013 tax return.

“BTW Gov Brown – I am still waiting on additional payments as of today and DMV registration for my vehicle was due on 10/20/13.  Are you going to waive the penalty for late payment? Am I the only one with this question?”

Scrutiny

California’s state Assembly has set a date of 6 November 2013 for a hearing into the Department’s system upgrade.

“We’re going to look at EDD, the contractors and others to see how the system broke down so we can avoid this in the future,” said Henry Perea, chair of the Assembly’s Insurance Committee, which has oversight over the jobless benefits program.

On its website Deloitte says:

“Deloitte continues to help EDD [Employment Development Department] transform the level of service it provides to unemployed workers and improve the quality of information collected by EDD. The next time unemployment spikes, California should be ready to meet the increased demand for services.”

Massachutsetts IT disaster?

On the opposite coast the Boston Globe reported on an entirely separate debacle (which also involved Deloitte):

          None admit fault on troubled jobless benefits system

“… even with the possibility that unemployed workers could face months more of difficulties and delays in getting benefits, officials from the Labor Department and contractor, Deloitte Consulting of New York, testified before the Senate Committee on Post Audit that the rollout of the computer system was largely a success.

“‘I am happy with the launch,’ said Joanne F. Goldstein, secretary of Labour and Workforce Development, noting that she would have liked some aspects to have gone better.

“Mark Price, a Deloitte principal in charge of the firm’s Massachusetts business, acknowledged that software has faced challenges during the rollout, but insisted, ‘We have a successful working system today. ‘’’

NPfIT shield

A shield of denial was up for years at the Department of Health whose CIOs and other spokespeople repeatedly claimed that the NPfIT was a success.

Comment

If you didn’t know that Universal Credit IT wasn’t working, or that thousands of people on the east and west coasts of the US hadn’t been paid unemployment benefits because of IT-related problems, and you had to rely on only the public comments of the IT suppliers and government spokespeople, you would have every reason to believe that Universal Credit and the jobless systems in Massachusetts and California were working well.

Why is it that after every failed IT-based megaproject those in charge can simply blow the truth gently away like soap bubbles?

When confronted by bad news, suppliers and their customers tend to join hands behind their defensive shields. On the other side are politicians, members of the public affected by the megaprojects and the press who have all, according to suppliers and officials, got it wrong.

Is this why lessons from public sector IT-based project disasters are not always learned? Because, in the eyes of suppliers and their clients, the disasters don’t really exist?

None admit fault on troubled jobless benefit system

State fired Deloitte

Complaints continue despite claims system is under control

As many as 300,000 affected by California’s software problems

California’s predictable fiasco?

Who polices police IT reports?

By Tony Collins

The police, and civil and public servants in central government, the NHS and local authorities criticise journalists for biased reporting – taking selected facts out of context.

They’re sometimes right.  Journalists working for national newspapers can draft an article that is diligently balanced only to find, by the time it’s published, it leaves out facts which would have complicated, blunted, or contradicted the main points.

It’s one thing for this to happen in the world of journalism. You don’t expect public bodies to report on their own affairs with a partiality that rivals out-of-context reporting by some newspapers.

But it appears to be happening so regularly that one-sided self-reporting on organisational performance may be becoming the norm in the public sector.

In the NHS subjective, positive reporting in board papers – where managers tell directors what they think they want to hear – could help to explain why Cerner patient record implementations have, for years, gone badly wrong for the same reasons.

In recent months reports without balance have been published on the performance of Avon and Somerset Police’s IT outsourcing contract with IBM. 

Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset Police  are minority shareholders in a private company, Southwest One,  which is owned by IBM.

Confusingly, Taunton Deane Borough Council issued positive reports about its successful partnership with Southwest One – and then it decided to take some services back in-house.

Now it has emerged – only as a result of FOI requests by Somerset resident and campaigner Dave Orr – that two independent organisations, the National Audit Office, and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, have commented positively on Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s partnership with Southwest One, based entirely on the unaudited opinions of the police force itself.

SAP

From his FOI requests Orr learned that the Avon and Somerset’s outsourcing deal with Southwest One has not gone entirely as expected. The National Audit Office’s FOI team has released notes of a joint visit by the NAO and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to Avon and Somerset police in December 2012.  The visit was to find out about how well Southwest One was delivering services to the police force.  

The NAO’s notes are positive in parts. They say that performance has improved considerably since the implementation of the contract.

“Implementation of SAP improving the accounts close-down process, initial issues being resolved and a good quality of service being provided regularly.”

But there is another side to the story that is not reflected in the published accounts of Avon and Somerset’s relationship with Southwest One. The NAO’s [unpublished] field notes say:

“Fewer than expected benefits have been realised from IT due to the considerably different security requirements of the Police compared to the Councils.

“It also took a long time for SAP to be implemented. There has yet to be a duty management system implemented by SWOne which is part of the contract… SAP would have benefited from some pre-launch testing or piloting.”

A letter to Orr from the Home Office appears to confirm that Avon and Somerset Police’s participation in Southwest One is an unequivocal success.

“The private sector can help to deliver police support services better and at lower cost. Every pound saved means more money for the front line, putting officers on the streets…

“In its report “Policing in Austerity: rising to the challenge [2013] Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary identified the Southwest One partnership as being a key element in achieving savings for Avon and Somerset Constabulary while ensuring better procurement, streamlining business support processes, and ensuring better use of police officer time.

“The report also noted that the Southwest One collaboration was the first of its kind for policing in England and Wales and that to date, no other force has delivered this level of partnership with local authorities.”

A little of the other side of the story comes in the last sentence of the Home Office letter to Orr which says: “We understand that Avon and Somerset Constabulary continues to work closely with IBM to resolve any technical difficulties and improve the services provided by Southwest One.”

Indeed a table on page 155 of HMIC ‘s 2013 report Policing in austerity: rising to the challenge indicates that Avon and Somerset Constabulary has one of the worst records of any police force when it comes to savings delivered between 2010/11 and 2012/13. [Table: Key indicators of the challenge - quartile analysis.]

Southwest One began a 10-year contract providing services to Avon and Somerset Police in 2008. The services included enquiry offices, district HR, estates, financial services, site administration, facilities, corporate human resources, information services, purchasing and supply, and reprographics. The contract involves 554 seconded staff.

Comment

Police forces, councils, the NHS and central government departments need  a few Richard Feymans to report on their organisation’s performance. Feynman was a gifted scientist, MIT graduate and noble prize winner who was chosen as a commissioner to report on the cause , or causes, of the Challenger Space Shuttle “O” rings accident on 28 January 1986.

He reported with such independence of mind and diligence that his hard-hitting findings were not considered acceptable to be included in the main report of the Presidential Commission of inquiry into the accident.  Feynman had to be content with having his findings published as an appendix to the Commission’s report – and an edited appendix at that.  

He suggested in his book “What do you care what other people think?” that his appendix was the only genuinely balanced part of the official inquiry report. 

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled,” said Feynman.

One of his questions was whether “organisation weaknesses that contributed to the [Shuttle] accident [was] confined to the solid rocket booster sector, or were they a more general characteristic of NASA.”

One of Feynman’s conclusions:

“It would appear that, for whatever purpose – be it for internal or external consumption – the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product to the point of fantasy.”

If such exaggeration happens at NASA it can happen in UK police force IT reports, and in board papers on the performance of councils and NHS trusts.

When journalists get it wrong it’s usually to their eternal regret. In the public sector positive unbalanced reporting is so “normal” that hardly anyone involved realises it’s a deviant practice. The US author Diane Vaughan coined a phrase for such corporate behaviour.  She called it the normalisation of deviance.  

It’s surely time for public bodies to move away from the norm and start reporting on their performance, and the performance of their outsourcing other private sector contracts, with balance, objectivity and independence of mind.   

If managers knew that reports on the progress of their contracts would be audited for impartiality and competence over organisational self-interest, perhaps they would have a greater incentive to avoid badly thought through outsourcing deals and IT implementations.

Is this why some council and NHS scandals stay hidden for years?

NAO report “Private sector partnering in the police service”

Dave Orr’s HMIC FOI requests and answers

NAO’s FOI responses on Avon and Somerset Police