Wednesday, March 10, 2010

UK Government's love of IT complexity

@tonyrcollins has been posting quotes on his blog from the BBC Radio4 File on Four programme about IT public sector projects in the UK, including the IT problems hurting farmers.
So where is that podcast? I'm sure I must have already downloaded it ...

    The programme opens with a comment by Edward Leigh, the retiring chairman of the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee.
    "We the taxpayer are paying enormous sums to people for these IT projects, to run them for us, and to waste money for us. So I think once a general election is over whoever wins I hope will take a scythe through all these precious IT systems."

    Here is Dr Phyllis Starkey MP, chair of the parliamentary select committee, talking about a failed system for the fire service.
    "There have clearly been massive mistakes about the way in which the project was first formulated and the way in which the contract was originally drawn up with the main contractor and they've led to huge delays and massive additional costs to government and to the various fire authorities."

    Aha, I just got to the bit where Tony Collins himself appears on the programme. For those of you that don't know him, Tony is the executive editor at Computer Weekly and has been a public observer and critic of public sector IT in the UK for a long time. Very sound.

    I was particularly interested in Edward Leigh's suggestion that ministers are subject to the illusion that it is easy to add functionality.
    "They’re very short-termist. They want to create a quick impact …[and] are very naive about IT systems and the cost of IT staff, so they’re taken for a ride by very bright people who earn very large salaries in the private sector running these companies."
    “Ministers come they go and they add onto these things like a Christmas tree. You need one simple – piloted – [system] … you stick to it. Rough-justice politicians just keep changing their minds – constantly new ideas – and of course they are just playthings for the private sector."

    But will anything change after the election? Tony Collins sounds a note of caution: A few big IT suppliers may have Tories over a barrel. So more of the same then?

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