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back to article Top IT bods bail out of new Universal Credit online dole system

The Department for Work and Pensions has strenuously denied that its Universal Credit project will be derailed by the departure of key IT employees. Universal Credit aims to overhaul Blighty's benefits system by merging six government handouts into one regular payment that can be claimed and managed online. It is due to go fully …

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Bailing out 6 with six months to go.

Is it..

A) because they have found a much better contract

B) because they dont want to be anywhere near the project when it goes live.

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What about C) because they made the majority of the money they are likely to see from the project already, and if they bail now they can blame someone else for failing to complete their vision, get a bigger job on the credentials gained on that part-project, while still having made a pretty penny for a long time up to delivery.

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Hilary Reynolds

She is a Kiwi by the sounds of it, so all should be good, they maybe on the ass of the world, but they sure as hell know their IT.....

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Paris Hilton

"credentials gained on part-project"?

Sounds improbable, as the project (in this reading) is expected to fail horribly. Either they claim they did wonderful work but then left the company when things came close to final (not what a prospective employer wants to hear), or they have sown the seeds of disaster (not good for credentials either).

And if it goes well it's still hard to explain why they have left a steady gig when things got serious, leaving their employers exposed in many ways (including press -- read shareholders in the new employer's mind).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hilary Reynolds

Kiwis "sure as hell know their IT"!?!? Bullshit. Certainly if the morons at Northern Arch/SunGard I dealt with were anything like representative......

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Pint

Well said

I up-voted sugarbear and Lee Dowling because they got there first and said all that's needed (I've been in the pub so no harm no foul on my behalf).

Colin

Beer icon because that's it!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hilary Reynolds

No she is not a Kiwi.

She was a Brit import for a very very senior job at the social welfare department who was imported at vast expense to the NZ taxpayer and after less than a year went back to the UK allegedly because her husband got a too-good-to-refuse job 'at home'.

Somehow she also hornswoggled a leaving gratuity out of the public purse despite having resigned for her own purposes. This was the subject of some controvery in the NZ Parliament last week.

So, not a Kiwi, and is not an IT professional

I'm just glad it's *your* tax money this time

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Facepalm

Trick question

The answer is both A & B

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Rob
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Go

Re: Trick question

...with a large amount of C thrown in as well.

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When asked about Hilary Reynolds IT credentials, a department spokesman simply said...

None.

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Unhappy

IT is a game of gentlemen and players.

Some big projects have been brought in my teams with *no* formal IT qualifications.

The question is how well all his (and his teams) decisions been *documented* .

So when someone asks "Why can't we do it this way, it'll save a tone of time and short circuit weeks of tests" will they be able to look up the decision and discover "Because 10% of the data needing to make that approach work is rubbish and every second you save will spent 10x on fixing the data."

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Paris Hilton

It goes exactly as planned

You see, in the very first of the instances the informal business plan not shared with Ministers is to dismiss important IT staff 26 weeks before live launch in order to give senior officials very good and apparently very valid excuses.

It is a "civil servant" sorta thang to ensure that any government initiatives grating with mandarins always fail on launch.

Queue the next big budget "to put it right" and "oh what a silly mess that was. Did the minister authorise it? Yes, you say?"

Coupled with "it is a good job we appointed So-and-so a few months before launch so he/she/it can pick up the pieces and take it forward"

(IT's not funny - really)

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Rats fleeing the sinking ship.

On another matter, "21 million claimants" - really? No wonder we're broke!

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Everyone who has a job or is self employed will be on it even if they don't claim any benefits, because the dwp's system is being merged with HMRC's system.

This means that in theory they can pay you exactly the right amout of benefit based on your income unlike the current tax credits system which pays based on an estimate and tries to correct it later when the tax returns come in. It is a nice idea on paper. Whether it works like that in practice remains to be seen.

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Anonymous Coward

No

Not true, the systems are not merging, they are separate and data transfer between them only happens for UC registrants.

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Black Helicopters

Black Mesa ...

My opinion is that the extremely regular failure of expensive government IT projects is simply a cover for black project financing ... Therefore the British combat spaceplane (codenamed X-Viper-Wing) and/or the governments fleet of laser equipped sharks are (pun intended) swimming in cash but undoubtedly years behind schedule ... Maybe.

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Joke

Re: Black Mesa ...

"Therefore the British combat spaceplane (codenamed X-Viper-Wing) and/or the governments fleet of laser equipped sharks are (pun intended) swimming in cash but undoubtedly years behind schedule ... Maybe."

Incorrect. The sharks are well funded and are simply awaiting immunity to fresh water. Then they will swim into your house and zap your donkey.

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&wtf;

<shudder verbalisation=off/

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FAIL

Really?

>'A DWP spokesman told us that "the first part of the project is done" and added that, as with the private sector, different people are needed at different stages of an IT programme.'

On anything I've ever worked on it has always turned out to be critical to have someone who knows the design & implementation inside & out long after the project is deployed. You can't consider the project completed until the system has been actually operational for months.

That attitude goes some way to explaining why most gov IT projects are text book examples of how not to do it. I suppose it's nice that they provide so many negative examples for students in the field to study.

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Re: Really?

"On anything I've ever worked on it has always turned out to be critical to have someone who knows the design & implementation inside & out long after the project is deployed. "

That's the question. Where is the "Corporate memory" for how are things done (and just as importantly) *why* are they done this way.

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Unhappy

Head in hands

I feel sorry for all the genuine claiments out there. They are in for a terrible time.

The scroungers will of course find ways to make a killing out of the situation

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Paris Hilton

DamnIT: Government or Whitehall?

The poor public has a right to know whether instances of cock-ups are Government based (Mininsters, MPs, ... elected members) OR Whitehall based ((un)civil servantry at national, regional, county, city or local) levels.

So often Whitehall mistakes are being passed off as Government mistakes.

It really is time for the shilly-shallying obfuscations to stop.

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Keep It Simple?

The government seems to have a great love of massive, big-bang projects which try to invent their own wheel and do everything in one monolithic fiasco - then they act surprised when it fails like the previous dozen attempts did.

One day, they might adapt and build modular components that exchange data sensibly - then they can build, test and upgrade components in manageable chunks ... unless maybe those in charge get nice post-screwup jobs out of screwing up at enormous cost to us? Nah, that couldn't happen, surely...

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Unhappy

Re: Keep It Simple?

"One day, they might adapt and build modular components that exchange data sensibly - then they can build, test and upgrade components in manageable chunks ... unless maybe those in charge get nice post-screwup jobs out of screwing up at enormous cost to us? Nah, that couldn't happen, surely..."

I wish you were right, James 100.I agree with you. But you speak far too much common sense, so the Government, the mandarins and the "consultants" who get the cheques signed will never hear a word you say.

Hence the Unhappy icon.

Colin

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Re: Keep It Simple?

I think it is simpler than that - merely the way the Treasury funds or how it allocates funds decides how a proposal is progressed.

Rather than a trillion bids based on evolution of the skills and adaptability of project over time (and hence over years and so governments and possibly contentious funding issues (money for Quangos anyone?) it is easier for the Treasury to allocate to big projects (especially if it's -ahem- partners (I use the term loosely) are aware of the funding opportunity.

Why do you think public bodies are more successful at funding bids than non-government or private organisations?

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Re: Keep It Simple?

One day, they might adapt and build modular components that exchange data sensibly - then they can build, test and upgrade components in manageable chunks ...

They already do - that isn't a magic bullet and indeed creates its own problems. Central government has long standing technical protocols on information interchange, but the problem of tracking real individuals over decades is not a simple one - a department may have a record on someone for an active case, the case goes dormant and the records left unmaintained until twenty years when later the same individual reappears with a different name, address, spouse and children. The individual concerned may not even remember where they were living so long ago but the two cases need linking up regardless. Very few private sector organisations have that kind of relationship with their customers.

I was with what was then the Inland Revenue when the National Tax Credits System was rolled out. It interfaced to over 60 existing systems and a large bulk of the problems were in fact caused by information interchange on that scale. In particular the WFTC and DPTC systems it replaced did this kind of tracking of individuals against DWP's DCI database, which lists something like 95% of the population. It only interfaced to DCI as a carry over from when Family Credit was administered at what was then the Benefit Agency.

The new tax credits system was Revenue from the outset and interfaced to their NIRS2 system instead. Less that ⅔ of the population were on NIRS2 - they weren't supposed to be - but if a claim came in from someone who wasn't that created a lot of administrative work between different units at the Revenue (taking several weeks) to get them validated and added before the claim could be properly processed. That isn't a technical problem but a political one. Remember how everyone was fine and dandy with the idea of a national ID database? This kind of difficulty is the price you pay for not having one.

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@the spectacularly refined chap

"but the problem of tracking real individuals over decades is not a simple one - a department may have a record on someone for an active case, the case goes dormant and the records left unmaintained until twenty years when later the same individual reappears with a different name, address, spouse and children. "

Indeed a nightmare.

Perhaps the govt could issue some kind of IDK "National Insurance" # that's unique to UK individuals who are entitled to government assistance?

"and dandy with the idea of a national ID database? This kind of difficulty is the price you pay for not having one...It interfaced to over 60 existing systems and a large bulk of the problems were in fact caused by information interchange on that scale. "

So in fact it's more due to *60* different systems that have proliferated and store details about the *same* person in *completely* separate databases. 60 silos instead of 1.

That sounds like it's more a problem of

a) *very* poor architecture (build another system rather than extend existing system which was *designed* from day 1 to have the necessary expansion hooks built into it).

b) Unwilingness to accept databases *evolve* and may become "unfit for purpose." At which time the *honest* thing to do is re-design the *whole* system and migrate the data to the new system (with any data cleansing done *before* you migrate), not build yet *another* software system it will copy large chunks of data to on a regular basis.

c)UK Govt IT policy of outsourcing so new plan -> new contractor -> new database (so they don't have to ask the *other* contractors who built all the other systems for handover documentation and now have their piece of the pie they control.

I've never been sold on the benefits of outsourcing because to do it *properly* implies *fully* documented systems and procedures, not to move from in house staff to an outsourcer but to allow you to disengage from your *present* outsourer and move to another one. Only a *fully* documented system makes that a creditable threat to the company.

The UK does not require its subjects to carry a govt issued license telling its citizens who they *are*.

I see no reason for it to start doing so.

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Re: @John Smith 19 / AC

Perhaps the govt could issue some kind of IDK "National Insurance" # that's unique to UK individuals who are entitled to government assistance?

Great. The list of everyone with a national insurance number is the aforementioned DCI which covers 95% of the population. What if you are one of the 5% it doesn't? There are half a million citizens of working age that don't have a NINO. The allocation process makes a NIRS2 upgrade look like a small job - it takes detailed investigations, cross-referencing with the appropriate registry office or immigration, an interview and production of various forms of ID to make sure that a) the individual is entitled to one and that b) a duplicate record is not being created. This is only going to get worse once child benefit is withdrawn from higher earners since the agencies responsible will have no record of large numbers of children reaching working age.

If you work for HMG for any length of time you'll quickly learn that pretty much any statement you attempt to assert about individuals as a universal truth simply doesn't apply as universally as you think, when the entire population is considered. You may think that a date of birth is definite and immutable but even that doesn't hold in the truly general sense. Little Johnny was a babe in arms when his parents were killed in the Blitz. A fortnight later an incendiary hit the local registry office. 70-odd years later he's attempting to claim a free TV licence. What is his date of birth exactly? No one knows.

Or you might state that an individual has a wife, husband, civil partner or none of them. What about polygamous marriages? They exist and impact entitlement to various benefits. The IT infrastructure needs to be able to represent those too.

So in fact it's more due to *60* different systems that have proliferated and store details about the *same* person in *completely* separate databases. 60 silos instead of 1.

No, the problem is more that the details are centralised. There are two main registers of individuals for most central government operations - DCI (DWP) and NIRS2 (HMRC). Those two registers are so important as a consequence that new records can't simply be created on an ad-hoc basis - procedures have to be followed to ensure both entitlement and that there is no existing record.

Other than the inbuilt desire of a Civil "Servant" to be in total control of the affairs of individuals, WHY does he "need" to link the two cases?

Interactions with government need to be accounted for for several reasons. On a personal level if you are retiring at age 65 would you be happy if the first twenty years of you national insurance contributions had disappeared because when you started working at a new employer a fresh account was created which didn't reference your contributions with a previous employer? Would a system that didn't detect people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and paying PAYE at the same time inspire much public confidence? Or even the same individual being paid the dole simultaneously for three separate claims?

The set of all legislation, rules and regulations that different branches of government must operate under are almost infinitely complex, with interactions between seemingly disparate areas (pensions and TV licences for example), special exemptions to particular rules and exceptions to the exemptions. If the legislation that the systems implement is complex it stands to reason those systems are going to be complex too. I still can't see how precisely the National Tax Credits System ended up costing £2 billion but it isn't a simple problem by any stretch of the imagination.

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Re: @John Smith 19 / AC

What do you think the coverage percentage reaches if you can use NI or passport number? Are they allowed to do that?

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@the spectacularly refined chap

You wrote: "the problem of tracking real individuals over decades is not a simple one - a department may have a record on someone for an active case, the case goes dormant and the records left unmaintained until twenty years when later the same individual reappears with a different name, address, spouse and children. The individual concerned may not even remember where they were living so long ago but the two cases need linking up regardless."

Other than the inbuilt desire of a Civil "Servant" to be in total control of the affairs of individuals, WHY does he "need" to link the two cases?

If benefits were simple, and basic, as they were originally intended to be, it wouldn't be an issue. So let's make them simple and basic.

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Re: @the spectacularly refined chap

"Other than the inbuilt desire of a Civil "Servant" to be in total control of the affairs of individuals, WHY does he "need" to link the two cases?"

Assuming you're a UK taxpayer are you going to be happy paying people multiple sets of benefits and/or state pensions because they have, either accidentally or deliberately, managed to get multiple entries in the benefits system?

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Paris Hilton

Sorta agreeing on he theme of "keeping it simple".

The only beneficiaries of not keeping it simple are the people employed to apply, uphold and take forward complexion and complexities namely the (usually) same (un)civil servants who dreamed up the complexities and complications in the first place. Principle: don't knock our nice little earner. Tootle off and find your own.

But there is the rub, by keeping it simple it means hardly any staff is required.

But wait! Hey! What if ...

... ah - it all sorts off makes sense now and falls into place, no?

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Anonymous Coward

Commonality

The only thing common to ALL public sector IT projects is the civil servants meddling in them.

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