Defra’s agile plan with multiple suppliers risky says NAO

By Tony Collins

The National Audit Office says in a report published today that Defra’s agile plan which involves outsourcing to multiple IT suppliers has “significant” risks.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plans to implement a single integrated £80m Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) system built on agile methodologies.

Defra has been working with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to plan an agile implementation and learn from the lessons of the past, the department’s chief operating officer Ian Trenholm told Computer Weekly in January 2013.

Today’s NAO report on Defra’s 2012/13 accounts says that the department is planning the procurement, development and implementation of new systems in line with changes to the way the common agricultural policy operates.

“Development and implementation of these [new systems] will present a number of challenges, including the requirement that data cleansing is completed on time, in order to ensure that accurate and complete data is transferred to the new systems,” says the NAO.

It adds that the IT element of the change programme “will be delivered through an agile approach which involves outsourcing to multiple IT providers”. The NAO says that Defra has recognised a number of significant risks relating to the Programme. “It will need a strong relationship between the Programme team and other important stakeholders, and appropriate governance arrangements, to ensure that these risks are adequately managed and that the Department learns the lessons from the implementation of CAP 2005.”

NAO report on Defra’s 2012/13 accounts.


Defra and its Rural Payments Agency had a disaster with the Single Payment Scheme which was built on conventional lines through one main supplier. If there are risks with the new agile approach involving multiple suppliers they cannot be as great as spending hundreds of millions of pounds with one company; and working through those new agile-related risks may help other departments find a different and much cheaper way of buying IT, and implementing important policy-related business change.

One response to “Defra’s agile plan with multiple suppliers risky says NAO

  1. If there are risks with the new agile approach involving multiple suppliers they cannot be as great as spending hundreds of millions of pounds with one company …

    The record of government IT failures with the oligopoly of systems integrators is so appalling that it is tempting to believe that any change must be for the better.

    DEFRA’s agile CAP system is a change. Mike Bracken, the executive director of the Government Digital Service, has told us in his weekly diary that he spends one day a week with DEFRA. The new system is presumably an instance of his Government Digital Strategy (GDS). Its progress will be the subject of considerable interest.

    Don’t forget, though, what four professors said about the GDS:

    … it is not clear how realistic this ideal is … brevity cannot be an excuse for lack of detail, explanation, and precision … It is impossible with the detail provided to form any reasonable view of how this key activity will be performed … there is an urgent need for standards to be developed and agreed … he had no practical understanding of how to use this strategy to have positive impact on his team’s work; We suspect he is not alone in this view … The GDS shows no evidence that it is aware or has taken account of the impact of such thinking … The GDS must avoid falling into the trap of an overly-simplistic response … Open source solutions are neither free to administer and support, nor are they the most cost-effective answer in all situations … rapidly changing services will deter the takeup of digital services, not encourage it … The GDS is remarkably (perhaps alarmingly) silent on the issue of how to coordinate SMEs in project delivery … We see little discussion of a concrete and practical change management process to support the “digital by default” strategy in the current GDS. We view this as a potentially fatal omission … the principles on which the current GDS is based centre on too narrow a view of how to attain those benefits, and lack focus on the major adjustment in culture, processes, and technologies that must underpin … this view is much too simplistic and highly risky … there is very little detail about how such goals will be achieved, or the broader cultural impact those changes represent … a lack of consistency in interpretation of how to enact the GDS … It is not clearly stated in the GDS who is managing the execution process across the 18 UK Government departments to coordinate and assess progress.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.