Category Archives: reducing cost strategically

More agile-thinkers like Roo Reynolds please

By Tony Collins

There’s a useful “keep-it-simple” article on agile software development principles by Roo Reynolds who a product manager at the Government Digital Service.

Reynolds quotes Marissa Mayer, former Google product manager, now Yahoo CEO, who said that there are two types of developer: those who seek perfection and those who seek something working today that they can improve on tomorrow.

“You probably want to work with the second sort of developer as much as possible,” says Reynolds. He quotes Voltaire as saying ‘the best is the enemy of the good’.  From Reynolds’ article:

“We start with a Minimum Viable Product, asking ourselves, what’s the simplest thing that could possibly work? We aim to have a working product, albeit a limited one, within a week or two.

“Having something you can point at and get feedback on as soon as possible is definitely better than attempting to polish something to perfection without anyone being able to tell you whether what you’re making is actually what they need.”

He warns against using made-up data, such as Lorem Ipsum text, because:

– it causes existing assumptions to be reinforced rather than challenged

– it lazily misses an opportunity to iron out any difficulties in getting hold of the real data

He concludes that “nothing beats feedback from real users”.

“Testing products with real users is vital. We always start with user needs (generally captured as user stories) and in meeting those needs I’ve learned not to get too comfortable with any implementation until we’ve tried it with a range of real people. Best of all, it’s ok to be wrong. The best way of getting closer to being right is to test real ideas with real people.”

Comment

If these principles had been applied to the NPfIT it might never have been started.  The NPfIT launched with the principle: what’s the most complicated thing that could possibly work?

Too often assumptions were made on the basis of unrepresentative data such as patient records that were up-to-date, accurate and not duplicated. The NPfIT was tested on real users – but then the bad news was all but ignored.

If Reynolds had been advising on the NPfIT, and Tony Blair hadn’t been so gung-ho when he chaired a discussion on NHS IT at a meeting in Downing Street on 18 February 2002, perhaps billions would not have been wasted on the programme.

More like Roo Reynolds in government please.

@rooreynolds

Reynolds’ article, Government Digital Service.

All change for police IT – again?

By Tony Collins

Police IT is supposed to have undergone a transformation over the past 13 years, thanks in part to a Home Office national police IT programme called NSPIS – for which Securicor Information Systems was awarded contracts worth more than £140m.

NSPIS contracts awarded in 1999 included:

– Case preparation: acquisition and delivery of forms, photographs, police reports, statements and other materials required in court for trying cases.

– Custody: booking in, tracking and monitoring of individuals held in police cells.

– Command and control: coordination and management of police operations.

– Crime: analysis of case histories and crime statistics.

With some reluctance, dozens of police forces took NSPIS systems with mixed success. The national transformation did not happen, though large sums were spent. NSPIS [National Strategy for Police Information Systems] was followed by another national IT-led transformation programme ISIS [Information Systems Improvement Strategy].

Now the government plans another police IT-led transformation. It is setting up a new company to improve police IT [as if the last so-called transformation programmes had not existed].

In a joint statement, the Home Office and the Association of Police Authorities say the new company will give strategic ICT advice to forces and procure, implement and manage ICT solutions for forces.

The company will “help police forces to improve their information technology and get better value for money from contracts”.

The police ICT company Ltd is now owned by the Association of Police Authorities and the Home Office but will be handed over to police and crime commissioners following elections in November.

In setting up the company Nick Herbert, the policing minister, says

“While some police IT is good, such as the new Police National Database, much of it is not.  There are 2,000 systems between the 43 forces of England and Wales, and individual forces have not always driven the most effective deals.

“We need a new, more collaborative approach and greater accountability, utilising expertise in IT procurement and freeing police officers to focus on fighting crime.

“By harnessing the purchasing power of police forces, the new company will be able to drive down costs, save taxpayers’ money, and help to improve police and potentially wider criminal justice IT systems in future.”

Chairman of the Association of Police Authorities Councillor Mark Burns-Williamson says that when the new company is handed over to police and crime commissioners “we want it to be fit for purpose and efficient in delivering IT tasks”.

The aim of the new company, says the Home Office and the Association of Police Authorities, is to “free chief officers from in-depth involvement in ICT management and enable greater innovation so officers have access to new technology to save time and ensure better value for the taxpayer”.

Police IT in a poor state?

UKAuthority.com reports that Tom Winsor, the new chief inspector of police, is “staggered” at the ineffectiveness of police IT.

Giving evidence to MPs he said

“I was staggered when I did my field work, in the police pay review, at just how low-tech the technology of the police is in volume crime and so on. It is extraordinary. They have computer screens that resemble those that we saw in the early 1980s. I mentioned the police officers doing their own two-finger typing and so on.

“It is the most extraordinarily archaic system. I think it is part of HMIC‘s role to expose inefficiency – and that surely is massively inefficient.”

Winsor said he had watched police officers standing in a queue for up to four hours at a time to book in a suspect. The private sector would not tolerate such delays, and would quickly change the system, he said.

Comment

With 43 forces buying their own IT it seemed sensible for the Home Office to try and introduce national systems.  As Neil Howell, the then IT Director at Hampshire Police Authority, said in March 2006, there was “political pressure to take up some systems – e.g. NSPIS Case and Custody ” but some national systems did not “match current level of functionality or requirements …”

In the NHS, several national IT-led transformation programmes preceded the NPfIT, but nobody in power wanted to know about the past when NPfIT was launched in 2003.

An extraordinary effort – and money – went into NSPIS  but police forces resented being told what to buy and in general were happy with own IT choices. Many were particularly happy with NSPIS rival systems from Canadian company Niche.

Perhaps the Home Office should accept that, apart from natural national systems such as the  Police National Database, Automated Numberplate Recognition, and the “Impact” intelligence sharing system, police IT is too complicated to be done nationally.

Mandating rarely works

Mandation rarely if ever works in the public sector. The Home Office and its agents cannot tell 43 autonomous police forces what technology to buy and implement.  Public bodies can, and do, circumvent mandation, sometimes by simply ignoring it, as National Audit Office reports point out.

The Department of Health  tried to tell trusts what to buy under the NPfIT and that didn’t work. Like police forces NHS trusts are largely autonomous.

Governments don’t have memories when it comes to failed IT-led transformation programmes. It may be good for civil servants and suppliers to learn new skills and experiment with IT on recycled transformation programmes.

But should suppliers learn at the expense of taxpayers? And should new ministers and civil servants keep launching new and exciting IT-led transformation programmes that fail as miserably as the last – giving excuses for a replacement set of ministers and civil servants to renew the cycle?

The Department of Health has finally learnt that what’s needed before the launch of any major  IT-led initiative is a frank appraisal of what has gone wrong in the past, and what can be learnt.  The DH achieves this in the “Impact Assessment” section of its latest IT strategy.  It’s not beyond the wit of police forces, the Home Office and the Association of Police Authorities to follow the DH’s example.

Unless they do, perhaps David Pitchford’s Major Projects Authority at the Cabinet Office should think twice before allowing large sums to be spent on new police IT.

Joint statement of Home Office and Association of Police Authorities

All change at the DH, CfH and on NPfIT – or not?

By Tony Collins

Katie Davis is to leave as interim Managing Director of NHS Informatics, says eHealth Insider which has seen an internal memo.

.The memo indicates that Davis “intends to focus on being a full-time mother to her two children”.

She joined the Department of Health on 1 July 2011, on loan from the Cabinet Office where she was Executive Director, Operational Excellence, in the Efficiency and Reform Group.

Before that she was Executive Director of Strategy at the Identity and Passport Service in the Home Office.

The memo indicates that the director responsible for the day-to-day delivery of NHS programmes and services, Tim Donohoe, will take-over Davis’ role until NHS Connecting for Health shuts down at the end of March 2013.

CfH’s national projects look set to move to the NHS Commissioning Board in Leeds, while its delivery functions will move to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

Davis had told eHeath Insider that her priorities included concluding a piece of unfinished business on the NPfIT – the future of the [CSC] local service provider deal for the North, Midlands and East.

Comment:

Davis has been a strong independent voice at the Department of Health. Partly under her influence buying decisions have passed to NHS trusts without penalties being paid by the NHS to NPfIT local service provider CSC.

It is a little worrying, though, that high-level responsibility for the rump of the NPfIT – CSC’s contracts, Choose and Book, the Spine, Summary Care Record and other centrally-managed projects and programmes – may fall to David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS.

Labour appointed Nicholson in 2006 with a brief that included making a success of the NPfIT. He has been the NPfIT’s strongest advocate.

Indeed a confidential briefing paper from the Department of Health to the then PM Tony Blair in 2007 on the progress of the NPfIT said:

“… much of the programme is complete with software delivered to time and to budget.”

It is difficult to see the NPfIT being completely dismantled under David Nicholson. It’s probable that CfH will be shut down in name but recreated in other parts of the NHS, while the NPfIT programmes and projects run down very slowly.  It’s even conceivable that CSC’s and BT’s local service provider contracts will be extended before they are due to expire in 2015/16.

A comment on eHealth Insider says:

“My understanding is that NPfIT is leaving us with a legacy of ancient PAS systems barely fit for purpose which cost a fortune to operate and which will transfer to a massive service charge once national contracts end. That’s if you don’t count the most expensive PACS system in the universe. And I wonder what Lorenzo cost?”

It’s hard to argue with that. Meanwhile the costly NPfIT go-lives are due to continue, at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, for example.

End game for Davis and CfH announced.

Chief Procurement Officer quits for private sector

Tony Collins

John Collington has resigned as Government Chief Procurement Officer after little more than a year in the post.

Collington’s resignation is reported by Peter Smith of Spend Matters. Smith says that Collington is to become Chief Operating Officer of Alexander Mann Solutions, a leading “Recruitment Process Outsourcing” firm.

“We might have expected consultancy, or software, but Collington has been involved in shared services in recent months and has a track record in outsourcing from his time at Accenture and I believe even before that.

“He’s got strong operational skills which should play to the COO role …” says Smith.

“Francis Maude gave Collington a glowing testimonial, as we might expect…But then Cabinet Office have to spoil it by talking nonsense …”

The Cabinet Office said Collington has reduced overall spend on goods and services from £51bn to £45bn and spend with SMEs is estimated to have doubled to £6bn, along with a 73 per cent reduction in spend on consultancy and contingent labour.

“We accept he has helped to reduce spend but, given he has no budget of his own, it’s a bit much to say he ‘has reduced overall spend’…” says Smith.

“And as Cabinet Office themselves know very well, they have no clue whether spend with SMEs has doubled, given the robustness (or lack of) around the data …”

It appears that Collington was a believer in incremental reform. He was not a Chris Chant who spoke of the need for radical reform. Chant argued with force  that high costs, present ways of working and the dominance of a few major suppliers were unacceptable.

Collington reported to Ian Watmore who was Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office. Watmore has also resigned.

**

Nigel Smith, formerly head of the Office of Government Commerce [now subsumed into the Cabinet Office], was one the harshest critics of the way government bought goods and services.

Smith said in June 2010 that up to £220bn – nearly a third of everything government spent – was on procurement. But there were 44,000 buying organisations in the public sector which bought “roughly the same things, or similar things, in basic commodity categories” such as IT and office supplies. There were 42 professional buying organisations in public sector.

He said there was “massive duplication” of activity. We wonder how much has changed since then.

Spend Matters

Collington appointed Chief Procurement Officer

How CIOs and IT suppliers view GovIT change

By Tony Collins

CIOs and IT suppliers give their views on Government ICT in an authoritative report published today by the Institute for Government

Inside the wrapper of generally positive words, a report published today on government ICT by the Institute for Government suggests that major change is unlikely to happen, despite the best efforts of  CIOs and the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.

The report “System upgrade? The first year of the Government’s ICT strategy”  says progress has been made. But its messages suggest that reforms are unlikely to  amount to more than tweaks.

These are some of the key messages in the report:

If the minister and CIOs cannot direct change who can?

–          “… while the Minister for the Cabinet Office and government CIO are viewed as being responsible for delivering the ICT strategy (for example by the Public Accounts Committee) they currently lack the full authority to direct change.”

Not so agile

–           “While just over half of government departments may be running an agile project, there were concerns that these were often very minor projects running on the fringe of the departments.”

–          “We heard concerns from the supplier community and those inside government that in some areas projects may be being labelled as ‘agile’ without having really changed the way in which they were run.”

–          “CIOs should question whether they are genuinely improving the ways that they are working in areas such as agile, or whether they are just attaching a label to projects to get a tick in the box,” says the Institute for Government.

Savings not real?

–          “There was also an element of challenge to the savings figures provided by government. For example, some from government and the supplier community questioned whether the numbers represented genuine savings or just cuts in the services provided or deferred expenditure. “

–          “Others … cautioned that project scope creep or change requests could reduce actual savings in time. It was pointed out that the NAO [National Audit Office] will scrutinise whether savings have been achieved in future, which was seen as a clear incentive for accuracy – but there were, nonetheless, concerns that pressure to provide large savings figures meant that inadequate attention might be paid to verifying the savings …”

CIOs want faster ICT progress

–          “Among the CIOs we interviewed, there was a clear recognition that government ICT needed to improve.  ‘You expect an Amazon experience from a government department…’ ”

Lack of money good for change

–          “As one ICT lead noted, a lack of money was ‘always helpful’ in driving change as it promoted cross-government solution-sharing and led to more rigour in approving new spend.”

–          “Both ICT leaders and suppliers felt that the ICT moratorium had been a helpful stimulus for increased focus on value for money.”

–          “Though some of the larger suppliers felt bruised by the ‘smash and grab’ of initial interactions with the Coalition government, there was a recognition that the moratorium had been about ‘stopping things which were inappropriate’”.

GDS challenges norms

–          “New ways of working in the new Government Digital Service and the opening up of government through the Transparency agenda were also seen as providing a challenge to existing norms.”

–          The new Government Digital Service (GDS) is providing an example of a new way of doing things, and was pointed to by those inside and outside of government as embodying mould-breaking attitudes, using innovative techniques and … delivering results on very short timescales. Several interviews mentioned being invigorated by the positive approach of the GDS and their focus on delivering services to meet end-user needs.

ICT so poor staff circumvent it

–          “Public servants are increasingly frustrated that the ICT they use in their private lives appears to be far more advanced than the tools available to them at work. Indeed, there are already examples of employees circumventing the ICT that government provides them as they attempt to perform their job more effectively: creating what is known as a system of ‘shadow ICT’ that creates significant challenges for maintaining government security, collaborative working and government knowledge management.”

Joined-up Govt impossible?

–          “The possibility that departmental incentives continue to trump corporate contributions is further suggested by our survey results. Individuals do not yet feel that corporate contributions are valued or rewarded … elements of the [ICT] strategy call for departments to give up an element of autonomy and choice for the ‘greater good’. Several CIOs expressed concerns that by adopting elements of the strategy that were being developed or delivered by another department, they would end up having to accept a service that had been designed  around the needs of a different department.”

–          “Similarly, there were concerns that the host department would be at the top priority in the event of any problems or opportunities to develop services further. This speaks to a strongly department-centric culture. Suppliers noted, for example, that certain parts of government were still happy to ‘pay a premium for their autonomy’.”

–          “… the vast majority of those we spoke to suggested that departmental interests would almost always ultimately trump cross-government interests in the current government culture and context.”

–          “CIOs felt that they would be rewarded for delivery of departmental priorities – not pan-government work …”

CIO Council frustrations

“CIOs noted that there could be a discrepancy between what got agreed at the old CIO Council meetings and what people actually went away and did. Larger department CIOs also expressed frustration that – despite holding the largest budgets and carrying the largest delivery risks – their voices could easily be outweighed by the multitude of other people round the table.”

“The delivery board model [which has superseded CIO Council] has been recognised by both big and small departments as pragmatically dealing with both sides of this issue. Larger departments now form part of an inner-leadership circle, but with this recognition of their clout comes additional responsibility to own and drive through parts of the strategy… the challenge will now be to ensure that the ICT strategy doesn’t become a ‘large department-only’ affair and that other ICT leads can be effectively engaged.”

Canny suppliers?

–          The majority of ICT leads …stated that they believed the ICT strategy would benefit their department and government as a whole. This confidence was less apparent in the attitudes of suppliers who were, on the whole, more sceptical of government’s ability to drive change, though again generally supportive of the direction of travel.

A toothless ICT Strategy is of little value?

–          “…There was also a lack of clarity on how different elements of the [ICT] strategy would be enforced. As one ICT leader commented … ‘Is this a mandatable strategy or a reference document?’ ”

–          … “there are risks that the strategy could be delivered in a way that still doesn’t transform ICT performance.”

Francis Maude an asset

–          “Government ICT has also been a priority of the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude – giving the [change] agenda unprecedented ministerial impetus. He has been a visible face of ICT to many inside and outside of government, from demanding departmental data on ICT to being heavily involved in negotiations with ICT suppliers. Though few of his ministerial colleagues appear as passionate about improving government ICT, the CIOs we interviewed overwhelmingly expressed confidence that they would receive the support they needed to implement the changes in ICT.”

Smaller-budget CIOs out of the loop?

–          “With the CIO Council in hiatus for most of the last year, the CIOs of smaller departments felt out of the loop …”

Most ICT spending is outside SW1

–          “Suppliers and other ICT leaders pointed out, rightly, that the vast majority of ICT expenditure happens outside SW1 – with agencies, local government and organisations like primary care trusts and police forces still determining much of the citizen and workforce experience of ICT.”

SMEs still left out?

–          “Smaller suppliers … were generally encouraged that government was trying to use more contractual vehicles which would be open to them – but noted that it was ‘still extremely difficult to get close to government as an SME’.”

Who knows if use of ICT is improving?

–          “Government still lacks the information it needs to judge whether use of ICT across government is improving.”

System upgrade? The first year of the Government’s ICT Strategy.

Too early to claim success on GovIT – Institute for Government

Cabinet Office promises unprecedented openness on risky projects

By Tony Collins

The Cabinet Office has defended its decision not to publish “Gateway” review reports on the progress or otherwise of large and risky IT and construction projects.

Gateway reviews are regular, short and independent audits on the state of medium and high-risk projects. Their publication would allow  MPs and the public to have an early warning of a major project in trouble – rather than know of a project failure only after it has happened.

Campaigners have sought for a decade to have the review reports published; and the  Information Commissioner, in requiring the publishing of ID Card gateway reviews under FOI,  dismissed the generalised arguments put forward by officials for Gateway reviews to remain confidential.

The Conservatives, when in opposition, promised to publish Gateway review reports if they came to power. But departmental heads and senior officials have stopped this happening.

Now the Cabinet Office, in a statement to The Guardian, has suggested that the first annual report of the Major Projects Authority will more than compensate for the non-publication of Gateway review reports.

The statement says that the Authority’s ( delayed)  first annual report will “bring unprecedented scrutiny and transparency to our most expensive and highest risk programmes, changing forever the culture of secrecy that has allowed failure to be swept under the carpet”.

The statement continues:

“Historically, fewer than a third of government major projects have delivered to original estimates of time, cost and quality. Since April 2011 the Major Projects Authority has enforced a tough new assurance regime and begun raising leadership standards within the Civil Service.”

The Guardian asked the Cabinet Office whether the traffic light red/amber/green status of Gateway reviews will be published.  The spokesman replied:

“The annual report will contain details of the status of major projects.“

Comment:

We applaud the Major Projects Authority in scrutinising, and in rare cases helping to stop,  departmental projects that don’t have adequate business cases. The Authority’s work is vital in pre-empting ridiculous schemes such as the NPfIT.

But project  disasters that rely on  IT continue, at the Ministry of Justice for example.  Like the National Audit Office, the  Major Projects Authority has limited resources and cannot scrutinise everything. Even if it could, the system of government is not set up in such a way as to allow the Authority to have final say over whether a project is stopped, curbed or re-negotiated.

Preventing failure

Gateway review reports are a critical component in preventing IT-related project failures. If officials know the whistle is going to be authoritatively blown on their failing schemes they are likely to do all they can to avoid failure in the first place. If they know that nobody will be aware of doomed schemes until those involved have left or moved, they will have less incentive to make projects a success.

An annual report is no substitute for the contemporaneous publishing of Gateway review reports. Each Gateway review is several pages and puts into context the traffic light red/amber/green status of the project. An annual report will not contain every Gateway review report. If just the traffic light status is published that will be a start, but without the context of the report what will it mean?

[And it’s worth bearing in mind that the first annual report of the Major Projects Authority is already six months late.]

The non-publication of Gateway review reports is  a victory by senior officials over ministerial promises.  How can we believe that the coalition is committed to unprecedented openness when the final say remains with Sir Humphrey?

Cabinet Office promises to challenge culture of secrecy on IT projects.

Whitehall to relent on secrecy over mega projects?

How London IT director saves millions by buying patient record system.

By Tony Collins

An NHS organisation in London has bought an electronic patient record system for less than a third of the cost of similar technology that is being supplied by BT to other trusts in the capital and the south of England.

The £7.1m purchase by Whittington Health – a trust that incorporates Whittington Hospital near Archway tube station – raises further questions about why the Department of Health is paying BT between £31m and £36m for each installation of the Cerner Millennium electronic patient record [EPR] system under the NPfIT.

Whittington Health is buying the Medway EPR system from System C which is owned by McKesson. The plan is for the EPR to operate across GP, hospital and social care boundaries.

It will include a patient portal. The idea is that patients will use the portal to log on to their Whittington Health accounts, see and save test results and letters, and manage outpatient appointments on-line.

In a board paper, Whittington Health’s IT Director Glenn Winteringham puts the case for spending £7.1m on a single integrated EPR.  Winteringham puts the average cost of  System C’s Medway at £8m. This cost, he says, represents “significant value for money” against the average deployment costs for the NHS Connecting for Health solution (Cerner Millennium) for London of £31m. In the south of England the average cost of Cerner Millennium is £36m, says Winteringham in his paper.

He also points out that the new EPR will avoid costs for using “Rio” community systems. The NPfIT contract with BT for Rio runs out mid 2015. “From this date onwards the Trust will incur an annual maintenance and support cost. Implementing the EPR will enable cost avoidance to the [organisation] of £4m per year to use RIO (indicative quotes from BT are £2m instance of RIO and the [organisation] has 2 – Islington and Haringey).

BT’s quote to Whittington for Rio is several times higher than the cost of Rio when supplied directly by its supplier CSE Healthcare Systems. A CSE competitor Maracis has said that, during a debrief, it was told that its prices were similar to those offered by CSE Healthcare for a Rio deployment – then less than £600,000 for installation and five years of support.

In comparison BT’s quote to Whittington for Rio, as supplied under the NPfIT, puts the cost of the system at more than fifteen times the cost of buying Rio directly.

In short Whittington and Winteringham will save taxpayers many millions by buying Medway rather than acquiring Cerner and Rio from BT.

Why such a price difference?

The difference between the £31m and £36m paid to BT for Cerner Millennium and the £8m on average paid to System C could be partly explained by the fact that Whittington (and University Hospitals Bristol) bought directly from the supplier, not through an NPfIT local service provider contract between the Department of Health and BT. Under the NPfIT contract BT is, in essence, an intermediary.

But why should an EPR system cost several times more under the NHS IT scheme than bought outside it?

Comment:

Did officials who agreed to payments to BT for Cerner and Rio mistakenly add some digits?

Whittington’s purchase of System C’s Medway again raises the question – which has gone unanswered despite the best efforts of dogged MP Richard Bacon – of why the Department of Health has intervened in the NHS to pay prices for Rio and Cerner that caricature profligacy.

Perhaps the DH should give BT £8m for each installation of Cerner Millennium and donate the remaining £21m to a charity of BT’s choice. The voluntary sector would gain hundreds of millions of pounds and the DH could at last be praised for spending its IT money wisely.

Whittington buys Medway and scraps Rio – E-Health Insider

NHS IT supplier “corrects” Health CIO’s statements

MP seeks inquiry into BT’s £546m NHS deal

NPfIT go-live at Bristol – trust issues apology

Watmore’s successor – the biggest challenge?

By Tony Collins

Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office, leaves at the end of June. What will be the biggest challenge for his successor?  I am told it will be to join up all the efficiency and reform measures:  ICT, digital, procurement, supplier management, project management, new business models, property and rationalisation  so that they are coherent from the point of view of departments, and don’t just look like a random set of instructions from the centre.

Farewell to Ian Watmore – the antithesis of Sir Humphrey

Universal Credit: who’ll be responsible if it goes wrong?

By Tony Collins

When asked whether Universal Credit will work, be on budget and on time, Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office, gave a deft reply. He told Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke on 13 March 2012:

“From where I sit today, I think all the signs are very positive. I am never going to predict that something is going to be on time and on budget until it is.”

If the plans do not fall into place who, if anyone, will be responsible? In theory it’ll be Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. But as Watmore told the Public Administration Committee, there are several other organisations involved. Although the DWP and HMRC are building the IT systems, the success of Universal Credit also relies on local authorities, which are overseen by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

There are also the Cabinet Office and the Treasury whose officials seek to “ensure that what is going on is appropriate” said Watmore.

If Univeral Credit goes awry all the departments may be able to blame the private sector: the employers that must pass PAYE information to HMRC so that the Revenue’s Real-Time Information element of Universal Credit can work.

David Gauke is the minister responsible for HMRC so would he take some of the blame if Real-Time Information didn’t work, or was not on budget, or was delayed?

Or would the main IT suppliers Accenture and IBM take any of the blame? Highly unlikely, whatever the circumstances.

There is also a dependency on the banks.

But nothing is wrong … is it?

All those putatively responsible for Universal Credit continue to say that all is going well.

Duncan Smith told the House of Commons on 5 March 2012:

“We are making good progress towards the delivery of universal credit in 2013, and I have fortnightly progress meetings with officials and weekly reports from my office. I also chair the universal credit senior sponsorship group, which brings together all Government Departments and agencies that are relevant to the delivery of universal credit.

“Design work is well under way and is being continually tested with staff and claimants, and the development of the necessary IT systems will continue in parallel.”

He said that universal credit will reduce complexity by putting together all the benefits that are relevant to people going back to work – though benefit systems that are not relevant to the coalition’s “Work programme” will not be included in the DWP’s Universal Credit IT consolidation.

To reduce risks Universal Credit will be phased in over four years from October 2013, each stage bringing in a different group of claimants.

But …

Campaign4Change has asked the DWP to publish its various reports on the progress of Universal Credit and it has refused, even under the Freedom of Information Act. It seems the DWP’s secretiveness is partly because all of the risks related to Universal Credit have not been mitigated. We will report more on this in the next few days.

Meanwhile to try and answer the question in our headline: who’ll be responsible if Universal Credit goes wrong? The answer is: the private sector probably. Or rather nobody in the public sector.

Can hundreds of millions be spent on Universal Credit in an agile way?

Universal Credit suppliers Accenture and IBM look to India for skills.

Is Universal Credit a brilliant idea that’s bound to fail?

Universal Credit latest

Universal Credit and the banks.

Should Francis Maude say “no” to so many projects?

By Tony Collins

When Jack Straw was Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, he told MPs on the Constitutional Affairs Committee in 2007 that when he abandoned projects there was a fuss at first and soon nobody noticed the project did not exist.

“There is always the option to abandon things. I did that in the Foreign Office with much complaint that the world might end.

“What happened was that we saved a lot of money and no one ever noticed the fact that that scheme did not exist…it is very frustrating that so many people, including the private sector, are taken in by snake oil salesmen from IT contractor who are not necessarily very competent and make a lot of money out of these things. I am pretty intolerant of this.”

Andrew Tyrie (Conservative): Do you suggest that the public sector has been taken in by snake oil salesmen?

Straw: I am saying that we are all taken in. There are plenty of disastrous IT examples in the private sector, BP and Sainsbury being two of them.

Tyrie: I was looking at the public sector.

Straw:

“I was looking at both. I think we all face problems whereby unless we are total IT experts there is a danger of being taken in by snake oil salesmen… It is a real problem and it is one that is inherent in IT; it is not just a problem for the public sector.

“The difficulty is that in the case of the public sector it is taxpayers’ money, not shareholders’ or customers’ money, and the mistakes are much more visible, but plenty of companies in the private sector have similar problems.”

Comment:

Should the Cabinet Office Francis Maude say “no” to so many projects? Clearly he’s doing the right thing if Straw’s remarks are anything go by. Would a  private sector board that has to watch every penny launch costly IT-related projects that weren’t really needed?