Another Government IT Disaster

Posted by Kevin Brady on Sat 26th December 2009 at 12:00 AM, Filed in Project /Programme FailuresIndustry News

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 wink

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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I was involved in the early (analysis) stages of customer first, it was clearly a massive challenge for any organisation, but it was made all the more difficult by combining the new 600 seat facility in darlington with a paperless process and a new on-line application process.

Perhaps if this had been phased to reduce risk it may have been less of a failure.

A couple of years prior to this SLC IT was audited by no less than gartner on behalf of the govt, and after weeks of fine-tooth-comb activity the report was very complimentary.

Posted by someone  on Mon 1st February 2010 at 11:31 AM | #

Thanks for this Danny. The client is often equally to blame for IT Failures. This Government with it’s shocking change management capabilities and focus on reducing the competency of civil servants it is no surprise that project phasing was not considered or agreed to. Recently a number of retired Senior Civil Servants have described encounters with the Government and the lack of anyone in the Cabinet who have any experience of “running anything bigger than a raffle”. This governments emphasis is on improvisation over organisation. No surprise failures like this occur.

Posted by Kevin Brady  on Fri 5th February 2010 at 01:54 PM | #


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