Billions of pounds are wasted every year on badly managed IT system deployments, according to a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Computer Society (BCS).
The study found that the UK is failing to produce software engineers and managers with the necessary IT and project management skills to commission and execute complex IT projects.
It also lamented the lack of professionalism in UK software engineering that could be "dangerous in safety-critical systems".
"The UK public sector alone has spent an estimated £12.4bn on software in the past year, and the overall UK spend on IT is projected to be a monumental £22.6bn," said Basil Butler, chairman of the working group that produced the report.
"We looked at a range of studies showing that only around 16 per cent of IT projects can be considered truly successful."
According to the study even conservative estimates put the cost of such failures into tens of billions of pounds across the EU.
"I wonder if the government has assessed the risks of its latest proposal to merge the IT systems of the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise," said John McDermid, Professor of Software Engineering at the University of York and a member of the working group.
The report recommends that all senior IT practitioners designing and delivering high-consequence systems should be either chartered IT professionals, a new qualification being launched by the BCS, or chartered engineers.
"It is time for the IT industry to recognise the engineering content of their work and to embrace the discipline and professionalism associated with traditional branches of engineering," said Professor McDermid.
One of the problems with cutting-edge software is that it is often hard to visualise what the system will do.
"Projects are often poorly defined, codes of practice are frequently ignored and there is a woeful inability to learn from past experience," warned Professor McDermid.
"The role of systems architects is critical; their job is to translate a business vision into a technical blueprint.
"They often hold the keys to success in complex IT projects, but they are in very short supply.
"The UK could benefit enormously from exploring ways to identify and support people with these unique skills."
Professor Wendy Hall, president of the BCS, added: "The BCS firmly believes that increasing professionalism is key to improving success rates on projects.
"It is fitting that this report should be issued at the same time as the BCS is launching its Chartered IT Practitioner scheme."
A PDF of The Challenges of Complex IT Projects can be downloaded from the BCS website here.
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