Stop Press: a successful government IT programme!

It is an easy thing to criticise ‘another failed government IT programme’. As with anything, it is only the failures that make the headlines and seldom the successes. I would therefore like to make amends by highlighting the news reported by ZDNet that the initial roll-out of electronic passports by the Identity and Passport Service has been judged a success by the Public Accounts Committee. Specifically, it has been lauded by MPs as an “excellent example of successful project management and procurement” and the Office of Government Commerce has been urged to spread the lessons learned from the project across government.

The OGC, of course, originated and owns the respected Prince2 project management methodology, as well as that for Managing Successful Programmes. It’s good to see them using their own methodologies but it is sad that others in the public sector don’t. So, the OGC might like to start with the Department of Health, where moves to introduce a lamentably poor online recruitment system for junior doctors were recently abandoned. In commenting on this failure, Health Minister Ben Bradshaw made what seems to me an extraordinary statement, saying, “If new or national systems [for doctor recruitment] are to be used in the future, they must be rigorously tested and agreed with doctors, the NHS and others involved.” This truly seems spellbindingly obvious and so rudimentary a requirement of any project manager that I am stunned it ranks a mention.

To be balanced, therefore, I should say it is terrific that there are clearly many pools of excellence in the public sector when it comes to IT project management; equally, there are some areas in which the level of professionalism is so low as to be positively alarming. Let us hope that the OGC can have more success than it has had in the past in spreading the knowledge of effective project and programme management so that junior medics and the taxpayer are spared future fiascos quite as amateur as the doctors recruitment system.