The software and services industry has largely blamed its customers for the failure of government IT projects.
A report by the Computing Services and Software Association (CSSA), published today, says a lack of business managers in government jeopardises successful implementations.
The report comes just weeks after the government's high-profile Modernising IT report last month on project failure.
Both reports agree that public sector big projects are ill-managed, but the government blames suppliers more than the CSSA does.
"Civil servants with expertise in policy and legislation are not always good project managers," said Charles Hughes, the CSSA review director.
"The responsibility for the business project must rest with the customers - you can't outsource the ultimate responsibility."
Old-style management culture part of the problem
The government also focuses on cost to the detriment of 'value' in its tendering process, argue suppliers. "There is too much emphasis on the old-style IT management culture, which tends to regard public sector procurement as an exercise in purchasing rather than one of business change," claimed CSSA director general, John Higgins.
Although the government is trying to keep costs down, the reality is that outsourcing contracts have changed, said Roger Cox, vice president of strategic sourcing at Gartner Group. Five years ago a project would increase in cost by around 10 per cent per year over its life. This has now increased to an average of 35 per cent, and as much as 100 per cent in some cases.
"The customer is driving change, because we are moving into a period of significant business and technology change," said Cox. "Government should take this into account because it is signing contracts based on cost alone, but expecting much more in business change."
"There is a common perception that the cheapest wins," says the report. "Processes in place today are time-consuming, costly and adversarial in nature. This has the effect of damaging projects before they have even been established."
Hughes said that government and suppliers have to work together at a high level. "We have to regard this as a partnership - this is not an adversarial process," he said.
The CSSA report calls for the creation of a joint government and industry 'senior forum' to encourage the adoption of best practice. It says many problems would be avoided if existing guidelines and professional practice had been followed.
It admits, however, that suppliers do sometimes get it wrong. "IT suppliers have on occasion been over-optimistic in planning major programmes, and may have set false expectations. The industry should avoid these practices," it says.
The Cabinet Office would not comment in advance of the report's official publication.
The CSSA report is sponsored by Andersen Consulting, Bull, EDS, IBM and ICL - some of which were involved in the very disasters the government reviewed in its analysis.
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