Tag Archives: IT projects

Are Whitehall IT business cases largely fictional?

By Tony Collins

Today’s report on the e-Borders programme by John Vine, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, is a reminder that central government business cases for major IT-based projects can be largely fictional.

Says the Vine report:

“The failure to identify these risks in the 2007 business plan meant that the original data collection targets, set out in the e-Borders delivery plan, were unrealistic and were always likely to be missed.”

It adds:

“The e-Borders programme business case indicated that e-Borders would allow foreign national passengers to be counted in and counted out of the UK, providing more reliable data for the purposes of migration and population statistics, and in planning the provision of public services. However, we found that the data set collected by e-Borders was not extensive enough for these purposes.”

And:

“Management information shows that between January and September 2012, 2,200 arrests took place as a direct result of the identification of wanted persons. This was less than the original estimate provided in the 2007 business case, which had anticipated 8,200 arrests per year based on the Semaphore pilot.”

One Whitehall insider said that experts are employed to write business cases to a template.  But do any of the promises in the business cases have to be fulfilled? It seems not.  Do business cases have to be realistic? The history of IT-based projects and programmes in central government shows that they don’t have to be.  

Business cases make promises on targets, any savings and costs.  When the targets in the business prove unachievable a new business case is written, and when the revised targets also prove unachievable another is written and so forth.

By the time assumptions in the business case have been properly tested the writers of the business cases are likely to have moved to other departments. Nobody is ever held responsible for writing a business case that proves to have been fictional. And why should they be? The writers of the business cases are in no way responsible for delivering the results.

The National Programme for IT in the NHS – NPfIT –had so many revised business cases nobody counted them.  Perhaps officials at the Department of Health knew they were largely fictional or, to put it more politely, aspirational. But the Treasury requires tick-box business cases to be written to justify money allocated to a project. Is there any point in a business case that’s not realistic? Perhaps. It allows money to be spent on a project that, based on realistic assumptions, would probably not be approved.

Below are the results of the e-Borders business case of 2007. Most of the promises haven’t been fulfilled.

The e-Borders system was based on Project Semaphore which was delivered by IBM in 2004 and it’s clear from the Vine report that the system  has been a success. Project Semaphore is still used because its replacement, which was commissioned in 2007, has been a standard government IT-based disaster with suppliers claiming that government kept changing its mind and the requirements, and the government saying milestones were not met.  In July 2010 the e-borders contract with “Trusted Borders” was terminated.

Vine’s report today,  Exporting the border’? An inspection of e-Borders October 2012 – March 2013, has a table (figure 18) that shows how much the Border Force has been able to meet the promises in the 2007 business case for the e-borders programme:  

1. Improved security by supporting the security and intelligence agencies to track and analyse the activities of terrorists and other national security targets across the border. Delivered? Partially.

2. Increased ability to identify and arrest those of interest to the police. Delivered? Yes.

3. Improved effectiveness and efficiency of border control activity by providing a risk assessment of passengers, facilitating expedited processing of passengers at the border and providing a platform for automated clearance services. Delivered? No.

4. Benefits will accrue from process cost savings as a result of the phasing
out of landing cards and the ability to access electronic movement
records when determining applications for extensions of stay. Delivered? No.

5. Enable the identification of those involved in excise duty avoidance and
impact on the market penetration of smuggled goods. Delivered? Partially.

6. Enable HMRC and DWP to establish the length of time spent in the
UK by an individual permitting easy identification of benefit claimants
living outside the UK and those falsely claiming non domicile status for
income tax purposes. Delivered? No.

7. Benefits to ports and carriers such as:
• reductions in removal and detention costs of those refused entry
(subject to implementation of an authority to carry scheme);
• more effective use of detention space at ports, provided free of
rent to control agencies; and
• remove requirement to procure and administer landing cards.

Delivered? No.

8. The ability to count all foreign national passengers into and out of the
UK enabling the provision of accurate statistical data to support the
provision of services. Delivered? No.

**

The Home Office is now writing a further business case for a new e-Borders programme, and will appoint a new IT supplier. Are its business case  authors expecting their work to be published under fiction or non-fiction? History, it seems, will provide the answer.

[The Home Office said its e-Borders technology was the most advanced in Europe – which says much for the 2004 IBM Semaphore system.]

John Vine’s report.

JohnVine “surprised” by findings

Natwest/RBS – what went wrong?

By Tony Collins

Outsourcing to India and losing IBM mainframe skills in the process? The failure of CA-7 batch scheduling software which had a knock-on effect on multiple feeder systems?

As RBS continues to try and clear the backlog from last week’s crash during a software upgrade, many in the IT industry are asking how it could have happened.

Stephen Hester, RBS’s boss, told the BBC today:

“In simple terms there was a software change which didn’t go right. Although that was put right quickly there then was a big backlog of things that had to be reprocessed in sequence. That got on top of our technical teams … it is like the landing path at Heathrow. Once you get out of sequence it takes a time to get back into sequence even if the original fault is put right.

“Our people are working incredibly hard … I am pleased to report that as of today RBS and Natwest systems are operating normally.

“We need to make sure they stay normal for the next few days. There is still some significant catch-up today, much less tomorrow and so on as we go through the week.”

The immediate technical cause of the problems might not have been too difficult for those inside the bank to establish – but finding out how and why it happened, why processes were not in place to stop a backlog of work building up, and why testing of the upgrade did not pre-empt the failure may take weeks and possibly months to establish.

Attributing blame could take many years. After BSkyB appointed EDS to supply a CRM system in 2000, and the project failed, it was ten years later before a court reached a judgment on blame. The cause of the failed project was never definitively established.

Official cause of system crash

The official cause of RBS/Natwest’s problems was given at the weekend by Susan Allen, Director of Customer Services, RBS Group which includes Natwest and Ulster Bank. She told Paul Lewis of BBC’s Moneybox programme:

“Earlier this week we had a problem in our overnight backup. So a piece of software failed that started all the updates that happened to our systems overnight.

“What that has meant practically is that information on customers’ accounts has not been updated… It is horrendous.

“The underlying problem has been fixed, so the computer software that failed has been replaced. That is in and working. The challenge we now have is bringing all the systems back up and working through all the data that should have been gone through over the last three nights …

“We have 12 million customers in Natwest and RBS and just over 100,000 in Ulster Bank. So it is affecting a serious number of people. It is having a terrible impact.

“We are encouraging all of our customers to call us, come and see us in our branches … we have branches open late .. and have doubled the number of people on the phone. Call centres are open 24 hours a day.”

Call centres use 0845 numbers which are chargeable for some. Lewis asked, Why are you making people pay to fix a problem that’s your fault?

“Customers should not be having to pay for those calls,”replied Allen. “If that is a problem for people we will take a look at that.”

Lewis: Will you re-imburse people for their calls?

“Absolutely. We recognise there will be lots of different expenses as a result of this. We apologise and want to make sure they are not out of pocket. If people have got claims they should put them through to us…we will need the information to deal with the claims.”

Lewis: Will you refund charges by credit card companies for late payments?

“We will. We will… we will make sure nobody is out of pocket… in one instance we got cash in a cab to a customer’s home… clearly we trust our customers so if we can see that somebody has a certain amount coming in every week we will give them money against that. So we ask people to come in and bring identification with them such as their bank card, we will do what we can to help.

“We will look after our customers. We realise this has had a huge impact on people. We are not underestimating it … clearly there are things that have gone wrong and we cannot put everything right.”

Lewis: How much damage has this done to the reputation of the bank?

“Time will tell. For us it is pretty devastating. We pride ourselves on being a bank that really cares about our customers and wants to deliver great service. We absolutely mean it.”

Lewis: Should you get a bonus?

“We only get performance bonuses when we perform and this has not been a good performance.”

Comment:

Her explanation of the cause of the IT crash is unclear but otherwise Susan Allen’s answers to Paul Lewis’s questions were exemplary. Her openness and unaffected humility is surely the best way to handle a PR crisis. Small comfort for the millions affected though.

Technical cause of the crash?

Some of those commenting to The Register appear to have a good knowledge of RBS systems. There are suggestions RBS has lost some important IBM mainframe software skills in outsourcing.

One or two have suggested that the crash was caused by a failure of the bank’s CA-7 batch scheduling software. In February RBS had an “urgent requirement” in Hyderabad, India, for people with four to seven years experience of CA7.

One comment on The Register said that RBS runs updates on customer accounts overnight on an IBM mainframe, via a number of feeder systems that include BACS. “The actual definitive customer account updates were carried out by a number of programs written in assembly language dating back to about 1969-70, and updated since then. These were also choc-full of obscure business rules … and I do not believe anyone there really knew how it all worked anymore, even back in 2001…

“Of course the moral is complex mainframe systems require staff with the skills, and in this case, the specific system knowledge to keep things smooth. The fewer of these you have, the more difficult it is to recover from problems like this.”

Robert Peston, the BBC’s Business Editor, asks whether outsourcing was to blame.

“In my conversations with RBS bankers, there is an implication that outsourcing contributed to the problems – though they won’t say whether this is an issue of basic competence or of the complexities of co-ordinating a rescue when a variety of parties are involved.”

An RBS spokesperson told The Register that the software error occurred on a UK-based piece of software.

Some lessons from the crisis – Bank of England Governor.

All change again for management of state IT projects in Florida

It is all change again when it comes to the management of IT and IT projects within one US state government.

According to this report, the state of Florida is preparing to do without a standalone agency that deals with technology, with the eventual demise of the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology (AEIT), a 16-person unit that helped set standards for technology purchasing and information security under the supervision of Florida’s governor and cabinet.

The Florida Legislature has passeda bill,  HB 5011, which would have replaced AEIT with an Office of State Technology (though quite how that would differ is unclear).  The Florida Governor, Rick Scott, vetoed the bill, and although the agency still exists, it will have no funding when the new fiscal year starts in July.

Many of its employees, including former state Chief Information Officer David Taylor, have already begun moving to other agencies, the report says.

As usual, the state of IT projects has come under fire with one politician, Denise Grimsley, arguing that studying some of the state’s technology initiatives – including an attempt to switch most of state government to a single e-mail system – led her to conclude that AEIT “in its current state was ill-suited to provide the statewide vision and oversight needed for certain enterprise information technology projects.”

Plus ca change.

Queensland audit brings in new broom to sweep away problem IT projects

There is nothing like an IT project disaster to spur the arrival of a new broom designed to ensure that it will never happen again.
 
Until next time.
 
According to the Queensland Courier-Mail in Australia, every computer system used across Queensland’s public service will be probed for flaws and inefficiencies under a A$5.2m audit set up to head off another costly IT project.
 
It follows the emergence of problems with a Queensland Health health payroll project which is now being audited after it was revealed that the costs required to put the project right would increase to over $400 million.
 
Newly appointed Queensland IT Minister Ros Bates ordered the audit to uncover how IT is being used across the government’s 19 departments and find where savings can be made.
 
The audit team, which comprises a seconded army of 32 public servants, will present its findings by the end of October.
 
In addition to the audit, as part of a push to achieve government IT efficiencies, departmental chief information officers have been stripped of their autonomy and will now report to the Queensland Government CIO.
 
Meanwhile, despite its payroll project problems, Queensland Health has won an excellence in eGovernment award for a project dubbed ‘The Viewer’ that has streamlined how clinicians access patient information about their patients.
 
The Viewer is a read-only web-based application that sources key patient information from existing Queensland Health systems, providing consolidated information in one place.
 
Before the project’s  implementation, patient data was stored in a range of paper and electronic record systems in over 260 different facilities.
 

Fire ‘superstations’ without software cost £1m a month – The Times

By Tony Collins

The Times reports today that taxpayers are paying more than £1m a month on the rent and upkeep of fire control rooms across England that have never been used. The purpose-built control centres look ready for immediate use, with open-plan desks fitted with desktop monitors and keyboards, and huge screens on a wall at the front of the control rooms which are supposed to help fire and rescue crews mobilise appliances and manage incidents.

Only there’s no working software.  The Department for Communities and Local Government negotiated the end of a contract with the main contractor EADS for software to run the regional control centres in December 2010. Officials concluded that the software could not be delivered within an acceptable timeframe. The regional control centres were completed before the IT project was cancelled.

The cost of the centres has been uncovered after a request under the FOI Act. The Times devotes much of its page three to a story under the headline:

Revealed: scandal of the £1m-a-month fire service ‘superstations’ lying empty.

Only one of nine regional centres is in use. The other eight incur rent, electricity, water and repair costs at £1,134,566 a month. Costs will be incurred for years because there are no break clauses in the agreements to lease the buildings. Two leases come to an end in 2027, one in 2028, two in 2032, three in 2033 and one in 2035.

A spokesman for the Department said that agreement has been reached for a further two of the buildings to be used by local fire authorities. Officials are searching for public or private sector tenants to occupy the other regional centres.

Lord Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, who authorised the start of the technology project in 2004,  said he had been kept in the dark by civil servants on the rising costs of the scheme. He said it had been on budget when he left the department in 2007.

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, said the failure of Firecontrol was an “expensive reminder of why you can’t trust Labour to run anything”. But the Coalition’s coming to power has not stopped central government IT-related failures.

Why Firecontrol failed

Firecontrol  followed the same tracks to a cliff edge that have caught out civil servants, ministers and suppliers on other government  computer-related projects.

The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee found that  the Firecontrol project was rushed, had little support from those who would use it, costs and complexity were underestimated, there was an over-reliance on consultants and a lack of accountability for decisions made  – or not made.

The idea was to replace 46 local control rooms with nine, linked regional centres, which would be equipped with new standardised computer systems to handle calls, mobilise equipment and manage incidents.

But the project was cancelled in December 2010 with ministers unsure the technology would ever work. The NAO estimates that £469m will be wasted on the project.

The NAO found that the scheme was “flawed from the outset”, largely because local fire and rescue officers did not want regional centres or major changes in the way they worked.  Introducing any large new system is difficult but with enthusiastic support serious problems can sometimes be overcome; but introducing a complex new system without support from those who would use it means staff will have little incentive to find ways around problems.

The NPfIT [National Programme for IT in the NHS] failed in part because it lacked support among GPs and NHS staff; and the complexity of introducing standardised technology in semi-autonomous hospitals – each one with different ways of working – was underestimated. It was the same with Firecontrol.

The complexity of introducing standardised systems in regional centres with no goodwill among staff – was underestimated.  From the start many local fire and rescue officers criticised the lack of clarity on how a regional approach would increase efficiency. “Early on, the Department’s inconsistent messages about the regionalisation of the Fire and Rescue Service led to mistrust and some antagonism,” said the NAO.

The technology project was rushed while local fire crews were excluded from project discussions. “The project progressed too fast without essential checks being completed. For example Departmental and Treasury approval was given without proper scrutiny of the project’s feasibility or validation of the estimated costs and savings,” said the Public Accounts Committee. The project went ahead before the full business case was written.

A review of the project as early as April 2004 found that the scheme was already in poor condition overall and at significant risk of failing to deliver. But the “Gateway” review report was kept secret for seven years.

Is the stage set for IT disasters in government to continue? So far the Coalition has decided, like Labour, to keep secret all internal reports on the progress or otherwise of its mega projects, including Universal Credit, though the policy on secrecy may be about to change, which Campaign4Change will report on separately.

Firecontrol – same mistakes repeated on other projects.

Australian payroll IT project cost grows from $64m to over $400m

David Bicknell

In Australia, the state government in Queensland is coming to terms with a failing IT project whose cost has grown from $64.5m to $412m.

The payroll system for Queensland Health first went live in early 2010, prompting thousands of employees to be underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all, and triggering a subsequent critical report by the state’s Auditor General. 

Late in 2010, the Bligh government said $209m would need to be spent to fix the system in the following three financial years, on top of the original $64.5 million implementation cost.

Now, according to The Brisbane Times, the cost of the failed payroll system will reach an estimated $412 million by the end of June this year, with further costs likely to be incurred in the future.

Failure to prepare: Government slammed over health payroll bungle

Smart state’s technology spending up in the air

Cash-strapped council IT teams to get backing for innovation projects

By David Bicknell

IT teams in cash-strapped councils are being given a helping hand to drive new IT projects where teams believe technology innovation could drive positive change in local communities.

It follows the launch of a Future Fund created by mobile telecomms company O2 to help forward-thinking councils get to grips with new methods of engaging their staff, citizens and communities.

Successful local authorities applying for the scheme will be awarded access to O2 consultancy time, services and technology to help them turn their project ideas into reality.

The Future Fund open for applications on 25th April with three grant funding packages available to the value of £125,000, £75,000 and £50,000.

60 councils attended the launch event with the scheme focused on authorities developing ideas and services against three broad themes: reducing cost and improving efficiencies; finding new ways of engaging with citizens; and empowering the community to do more for itself.

Each of the topics points to more effective service delivery, by empowering staff or by expanding the concept of ‘self-service’.

To support the Fund’s launch, O2 plans to showcase 17 different parts of its business, each with their own unique slant on the digital age, from established technologies such as wi-fi to ‘people’ skills, social media expertise, mobile advertising and location-based services, as well as business engagement and apps development. Councils will be able to pick which selection of services to use to build their idea and weave into their bid.

O2 says it has created the Future Fund through its Local Government Futures Forum, which aims to understand what the role of IT should be in modernising councils in challenging times.

It argues that as technology advances at a rapid pace, with people creating and consuming data in more diverse and immediate ways, councils face a challenge to use these channels to demonstrate communications nous and find new ways to engage with their communities.

A recent consultation exercise found that budget cuts across the public sector have resulted in an expected automatic squeeze on resources, with mounting pressure across all departments to operate more efficiently and do more with less. 

With ongoing pressure to reduce spending, council decision-makers are opting for solutions that make an immediate impact – cutting services, and in turn cost – rather than looking at ways of adapting them, with IT departments facing an uphill struggle to retain and control their destinies, often competing for de-centralised budgets across multiple teams with no place or input at a board level.

Ben Dowd, Director of Business at O2 says: “O2 believes that the right application of technology has the potential to drive real change. Our findings through our work with local government IT departments support this belief. What is different is that the Future Fund will give a glimpse of what is possible with a bit of imagination and we will support the winning bids by providing investment in their IT infrastructure coupled with resource and expertise.

“So it is up to the councils to determine how it can be applied to their own council, citizens or community, ultimately giving local government the ability to shape their own destiny in a project they are passionate about.”

Applications for the Fund will be judged by a panel of experts from O2 and independent parties. Councils will then have eight weeks to develop and deliver their ideas, before selection takes place later this year.

www.o2.co.uk/futurefund

New York’s new CIO to create centre of excellence to prevent failing IT projects

By David Bicknell

New York’s recent problems with IT projects have been well documented.

Its latest solution: appoint a new CIO, with a wide remit that includes innovation and the setting up of a ‘centre of excellence’  to nail down failing projects.

Rahul Merchant joins with a background served at US mortgage and housing specialist Fannie Mae and at financial services company Merrill Lynch.

He will become the first Citywide Chief Information and Innovation Officer and Commissioner of the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications reporting to New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg.

His role will involve overseeing New York’s information technology development and management, with a focus on delivering technology projects on-time and on-budget.

Merchant will succeed Carole Post, who recently announced she will be leaving for a position at New York Law School.

“By bringing the City’s IT infrastructure and development under one office, we can ensure we are using best practices across agencies, leveraging the City’s enormous IT infrastructure to our maximum advantage and holding contractors accountable for delivering results,” said Bloomberg. “Rahul is a seasoned executive who has proven himself time and again as a leader and an innovator in the industry.  He is going to do an outstanding job as New York City’s first Chief Information and Innovation Officer and we are excited to add him to our talented team.”

Merchant will be responsible for New York City’s IT infrastructure, as well as oversight of the implementation of key technology initiatives that enable the City’s various agencies to serve 8.4 million New Yorkers.

What will be worth watching is seeing how he tackles New York’s reputation for troubled IT projects by creating a Centre of Excellence that will  “standardise business processes for the implementation of large technology projects, institute a system of vendor evaluation to hold contractors accountable for meeting project milestones, and update the City’s technology contracts to focus on the delivery of established milestones to meet agency business needs.”

According to Bloomberg, Merchant will work closely with agency commissioners and chief information officers “to ensure that IT projects leverage existing infrastructure and software to the maximum possible extent, and that the City’s overall IT budget meets core agency business needs and the City’s overall technology objectives.”

He will also spearhead the New York’s efforts to remain a leader in technology innovation, by leveraging its  technology assets and partnerships with academic institutions, technology firms, and entrepreneurs.

He won’t be short of people to help. Merchant will lead a 1,200-strong staff responsible for managing the City’s information technology infrastructure as well as serving the information technology needs of 45 mayoral agencies, dozens of other governmental entities, and nearly 300,000 employees.

Here’s how local sites reported Merchant’s appointment:

Crain’s New York Business: Major taps Merrill Lynch vet to tame tech projects

Tech President: New York City just radically changed who manages its IT projects

Government Technology: NYC names Rahul Merchant to CIO and Innovation role

Information Age article questions Cabinet Office scrutiny of IT projects

By David Bicknell

Information Age has written an interesting piece examining the Cabinet Office’s scrutiny of IT projects worth over £1m.

It says that despite pledging to publish regular performance data on IT projects worth over £1m, the Cabinet Office is not even collecting the data.

It reports, “The Cabinet Office is not collecting data about the performance of government IT projects worth over £1 million, despite having made a commitment to publish this information regularly as open data.

“In February 2011, the Cabinet Office published performance data for all major IT projects up until July 2010 (just before the current government came into office)  on open data portal data.gov.uk. At the time, it said that the data would “updated regularly”, but that “the specific form of future publications has not yet been determined”.

A Freedom of Information Act request from Information Age revealed that the Cabinet Office is not collecting this data. In its response to the request, the department revealed that it holds “no recorded information … relating to the performance of ICT projects over £1m”.

How many organisations are failing to deliver on their Agile developments?

By David Bicknell

How many organisations are struggling to see real value and business benefits from their Agile IT projects?

This blog, looking back at some of the predictions for Agile in 2012, argues that a number of organisations that have adopted Agile have an inability to understand its why and how, while others are inadaquately prepared for adoption, resulting in a failure to address management impact across teams and engineering practices in teams.

The piece cites the Cutter Consortium blog which, in looking ahead to 2012, argued that “many organisations worldwide will continue to adopt Agile. Most of them will do so with no expert guidance, with ho-hum results, and with little understanding of why they got those results.

It suggestted that, “People will continue to get their Agile skills certified while others rail against the value and implication of those certificates. Companies will still rely on head hunters to hire Agile coaches, and wonder why those coaches can’t seem to straighten out their Agile implementation.

“Organisations will continue to agonise over micro-estimation of detailed backlogs. They will continue to spend a pretty penny on “adding bodies” to projects riddled with technical debt, while not investing in the skills and habits their developers need to reduce or avoid increasing such debt. Managers will continue to use language like, “We just hired a resource in development” without investing proper attention in the hired person. And downsizings will continue until morale improves.”

Another blog predicted that, “Everyone will claim they are Agile, but that 50% of them will be wrong, and half of the rest won’t get any value from it. There are too many bad development practices at organisations that have too few people, with too little coaching, and hardly any tooling.”

Meanwhile, this survey suggests that Agile development has a higher priority in the private sector (in the US) than in the public sector.

So what is the true picture for Agile? Is it delivering project success, as JP Morgan and John Deere, have found? Or are some organisations adopting Agile almost as a fashion accessory, without really understanding where they’re going?

Related reading

Agile skills gain ground

JP Morgan adopts Agile in Australia

As Agile as a John Deere tractor