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back to article Siemens kicked off UK government contract

Siemens has lost a contract with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which was due to run until 2010. It is rare for any government department to sack its IT supplier, no matter how bad relations get. In 2003 the Inland Revenue did end its contract with EDS and Accenture but the contract had run for 10 years and then had a …

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Anonymous Coward

It's totally doable

We control 100% of computers, anything you can design we can implement. If a computer company can't implement it, then sack them and don't work with them again.

Quit rewarding incompetence!

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IT Angle

Why am I not suprised?

Rant Alert

As a former civil servant I have had significant dealings with EDS among other service providers. The contracts always without fail went to the lowest bidder. Classic Peanut paying monkey buying situation. Considering we were running (and I am reliably informed the dept. still is running) software copyrighted in 1981 (older than me) on machines developed in 1989 (but not implemented until 1994) you would have thought these IT companies would have had a decent knowledge base to work from when fixing problems. No. Incorrect information. One notable telephone call operative (supposedly an IT expert) when I was reporting a fault directed me to go to control panel. In DOS. Strangely C:/Windows/ControlPanel didn't work. I ended up just restarting the mainframe of my own volition.

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Anonymous Coward

It's not that difficult

All HMG needs to do is make sure contracts are reasonable and allow the possibility for termination if the supplier doesn't supply.

Then, should the supplier question a termination the reasons should be looked at and considered properly. Assuming then that the termination is appropriate HMG should move on.

If any supplier then threatens to sue, or starts to sue HMG should make it quite clear that there will be no more government work sent their way. Ever.

I have seen this sort of thing happen on much smaller scales many times, and as long as you have a big enough budget you always get what you want.

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Thumb Down

Men against boys

Having seen this issue from both sides of the fence, it seems to me that when these contracts are negotiated it's a matter of big business stamping all over the Government departments.

I used to work at the court service and it was obvious whoever had negotiated the contract with EDS didn't have the first idea about IT.

For example, moving a dumb terminal from one desk to another cost about £350.

All the systems were slow and eventually when the office I was working in got it's new infrastructure the implementation didn't allow for simple things like putting permissions on server directories. Oh, that's another £350 per directory, per change.

No wonder the finances of this country are in such a mess with massive overspends like this on Gov IT projects. When Gov is not involved, things seem to go much more smoothly.

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@Ian

A mainframe running DOS? I sorta honestly doubt that. But I agree with your point and can corroborate from my own experience.

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Silver badge

@Iain

Was your mainframe running DOS?

What - DOS/360 maybe? But that would imply an IBM 360/370 mainframe (although I guess that it would run under VM on newer kit), much older than 1989.

Where is the icon for an old IT fart. A crumpled suit would probably do.

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Linux

Silly Situation

It's a controversial idea, but why not just specify that development needs to be open sourced - at least internally. That does _not_ necessarily mean free software - but that the Government then owns the right to the code that has so far been produced so that another supplier can pick up the mantle and continue with the project - or at least separate the wheat from the chaff.

That'd stop the big businesses coming in and taking the proverbial.

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Joke

Scope Change

I used to work for Accenture and my experience with this big contracts is that everything is nailed down at the negotation stage and then as soon as you start the scope changes constantly and leads to massive over runs and a product that doesn't work. Basically when any new poloitician comes in they want to stamp there mark on the project and change the scope to what they think it should be, they lose their job the next one comes in and does the same then there is a general election and the entire government get in on the act.

They should leave alone and let the actual departments set the scope not some inexperienced pseudo elected lacky who has no idea about the problem they are trying to solve

Joke alert because all goverment IT contracts are a joke

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It's basically a cartel

Having briefly worked on the Child Support Agency project that went horribly my impression is that public sector IT projects are entered into for all the wrong reasons and with none of the incentives the private sector has to make things work.

Private companies generally buy IT services either to get a competitive edge or to reduce their cost base. Projects do frequently go wrong, but because the targets are usually pretty well defined this can be caught early and (with some luck) fixed.

In the public sector a competitive edge isn't really the issue and IT projects appear to be designed explicitly to avoid making anyone's job redundant. Whenever a project looks like it may be in danger of doing this the civil service change the specs and the contractors, paid on a per diem basis, happily take the extra work.

When someone eventually discovers that a project is giantly over time and budget (which, frequently, noone does, because noone is relying on it to deliver products or services the way a business would) there seems to be an agreement between the big contractors and the government. If the contractor takes the blame for things going wrong and the bad press coverage without unveiling the real reasons the project went wrong (or the fact that most of the public sector don't want the projects to go right) then the government will continue to hire that contractor no matter how badly the public think they've screwed up.

EDS understand this game best, which is why they win so much government business. As for the consultants on the ground it made us even more cynical than everyone else about paying taxes to fund the kinds of projects we now know to be incubation for groups of people sworn to protect their jobs and their budgets against modern technology.

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Pirate

@AC and Andrew

@AC: Totally agree with you. But you also need to take into account the fact that the likes of Accenture, EDS and co tend to seriously over-engineer everything they do so that even the smallest project requires a team of 20 for 1 year before it even starts.

@Andrew: No need for that. What you do is you request the code to be kept in escrow. If the project is a success, all fine; if not, the customer gets the code. This is typically done when the supplier is a small company that has a high risk of going out of business but could be done with anybody in theory.

The main problem is that all parties tend to think that the more complex and convoluted a solution is, the better. "If it's complex it must be good!" KISS is something they've never heard of and that is so alien to their way of working they wouldn't recognise its value when they see it.

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Paris Hilton

Cowboy customers

@Bernard - agree very strongly with this, its been seen time and again.

The government agencies I have worked with are somewhat overstaffed and have managed to hide true IT costs within other people's salaries. So moving a PC from one desk to another costs "nothing" to them.

The lack of understanding about requirements baselines, testing strategy, quality planning, NFRs, and through-life cost gives the expected results. Lots of spreadsheets and Access "applications" which hang together by a thread, are unmaintainable and unreliable. Time-bombs waiting to go off when the next bit of major legislation appears or when Bob (who originally developed it) disappears leaving no documentation (or no source code...if he was sacked).

Generally, public sector clients can't make decisions, but can always provide 20 people at meetings where at least 15 of them don't say a word. They won't challenge/discuss anything with their superiors during project workshops - there is a weird deference for seniority even when they are wrong - very little exchange of ideas.

Paris: because only she can cheer me up about this.

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@Peter Gathercole

@*%k Off!

Nothing wrong with a 370 - better kit than half the rubbish running far too many systems these days.

And anyone born post 1981 hardly qualifies as an old IT fart - can't you do the math?

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@Vulpes Vulpes

Does this mean I qualify since I have used both mechanical "calculators" and, wonders of modern science, COMPTOMETERS !! Teletypewriters were only just reaching the masses and CRT screens were reserved for the most holy of holys !! Much work were still done on punched cards submitted for batch processing !!

@Peter Gathercole - wrinkly suits ?? You wimp !! Real programmers wore T-shirts and jeans (preferably unwashed for years) !! They could be detected by odour a mile down the road and sniffer dogs ran whimpering in terror into the night !!

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Boffin

Crusty young'un

old IT farts are not always biologically old (the whole industry is still young as such things go), but we are quite useful when five-nines uptime is required. qualify as one myself (will be 40 soon, have 20+ years of experience), and the new kids have no clue.

first thing i do is teach them BSD and the like (penguins also allowed), and they smile as if they got a new toy. routinely running locked-down, low-end machines (p3 and the like) as parts of core infrastructure, for years, without downtime or reboots, always boggles the mind of those used to the desktop life ("have you rebooted today?").

nothing wrong with IBM Big Iron. even their old stuff still does a bang-up job on availability (if it's down, the shiny features don't really matter, do they?), and runs *n*xen perfectly well.

thereg needs a geezer icon, but i'll settle for the Blue Boffin.

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Thumb Up

Old IT farts ?

Aahh !

I can remember it took two of us to lift a Post Office Datel 200 Baud Modem and we used punch cards on the Essex County Council Mainframe in Assembly Language !

They havn't got a clue these days.

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