Thursday, 5 September 2013

Politicians and IT

Been there. A minister is sold on a grand IT project but insists that it is completed to suit an electoral agenda rather than to a realistic timetable. It falls flat as soon as it is rolled out live and is shelved. New management is brought in and the project is brought back on track.

I had thought this government might be different. In 2010, the Conservatives published a well-thought-out manifesto for computing in government, which promised more devolution to civil servants for small projects and more work for SMEs. This suggested that intelligent project control might be on offer as well.

The NAO report on the Universal Credit introduction reveals that nothing much has changed on either the project control or the procurement fronts.

The story of DVL (the first paragraph) has a happy ending. The new management and additional experienced staff enabled both driver and vehicle licensing systems to go live not much later than the original calculations had predicted, and in the case of the vehicles project with which I was most familiar with only one minor error. A BMW dealer in West London received more paper from Swansea than he expected, but otherwise as far as the general public was concerned, the system ran smoothly.

The hiccup was not even a factor in Labour's loss in 1970. England's exit from the Mexico World Cup was more of a talking-point, but Roy Jenkins' mean budget was probably the decisive factor. It may well be different this time. The benefits system affects many people and a failure would cause real hardship. A delayed licence would not have been disastrous.

Mr Duncan Smith's inflexibility is worrying. The whole concept of universal credit is too important to be put at risk by a macho minister's unwillingness to reexamine his timetable.

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