Another Government IT Disaster
The National Audit Office (NAO) one of the few government departments not under the direct control of Gordon Browns spin machine is investigating another IT disaster, this time at the Student Loans Company.
Apparently the problems at the Loan Company started with the document scanning equipment which set off a chain of events which caused organisational meltdown. Thousands of students did not receive loans, allowances, grants on time. What makes this worse is that the technological problems which triggered this situation have not been corrected an all to familiar story.
So how will the government bury this one?
Perhaps the way the Government side stepped the £152m (EDS Supplied) Child Support Agency (CSA) computer system. Another disgraceful IT disaster where the equivalent of two thirds of the money collected by the Child Support Agency (CSA) from absent parents for the care of their children was wasted on administration because of this failed computer system and poor management. I have to say when this first surfaced I thought the government back if 2006 (happy times for waste and profligate government spending) was going to be on the rack for this one once the NAO had completed it review. Then the government closed the agency burying the problem in dead department. This worked without hardly a squeak from the media. This government is always interested more in how it looks than fixing the problem or chasing compensation from the suppliers. Perhaps we will hear news that the Student Loan Company is going to be closed /merged in order to fudge the mistake. It worked last time
The Loan Company’s technological problems all relate to the “Customer First” modernisation under which 90% of students submitted their applications online. Students apparently experienced “time-out” or were unable to progress their applications past certain points in the online application process despite entering correct information. To make the meltdown complete paperwork to support applications were lost or not scanned correctly.
So what might be the reasons for this IT Disaster? Well you can take a look at the latest CHAOS survey of IT Project Failures and I am sure many of the potential causes can be identified here. However, I feel the causes are to be found at the more strategic levels of the government and its civil service.
I remember some illuminating comments made by Lord Jones was one of five experts recruited by Gordon Brown to join his ‘Government of all the talents’ where all but one of these talents has resigned in less than two years.
This former CBI boss became a Trade Minister but says he was given too many trivial tasks to do instead of being allowed to focus on important issues. He also claimed that the Government would be more effective if experts like him took over from ‘enthusiastic amateur Cabinet Ministers and risk-averse civil servants’. If you have ever read books like “Lions Donkeys & Dinosaurs” by Harold Evans which details the UK Armed Forces procurement blunders, this explanation fits but with the addition of outright fraud and deception added to the mix.
For some ideas as to how to prevent Government IT Disasters take a look at “Can Government Policy Reduce IT Project Failure”
The National Audit office is due to report on this in the Spring of 2010. Lets see if its delayed until after the election
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