Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Ethics of Risk in Public Sector IT

@tonyrcollins via @glynmoody and @Mark_Antony asks Should winning bidders tell if they suspect a new contract is undeliverable? (8 June 2011) and raises some excellent ethical points about public sector procurement.

One of the functions of good journalism is to hold people and organizations to account. Tony fishes out a speech given in 2004 by Sir Christopher Bland, then chairman of BT, in which he acknowledged incomplete success in previous ventures, and admitted the extraordinary challenges involved in the NPfIT, for which BT had just won three contracts then valued at over £2bn.

There is obviously a difference between something's being extremely difficult and its being impossible. BT executives can fairly claim that they were always open about the chance that it was going to be difficult, and that they didn't know for sure that it was going to be impossible. But at the same time, there is an asymmetry of information here - the supplier is presumably in a better position to assess certain classes of risk than the customer. (Meanwhile, there may be other classes of risk that the customer should know more about than the supplier.)

In my opinion, the ethical issues here are not to do with deliberate concealment of known facts, but of misleading or inadequate assessment of shared risk. The key word in Tony's headline is the word "suspect". So what are the ethics of doubt?

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