Hark, what is that I hear?
Could it possibly be the sound of an incoming train wreck?
The government's £500m plan to overhaul the benefits system is being hampered by IT problems that could yet lead to another spectacular public sector disaster at the expense of taxpayer money, Labour MPs have claimed. The Department for Work and Pensions denied that anything had gone wrong after allegations emerged suggesting …
Could it possibly be the sound of an incoming train wreck?
There is always an interesting pattern with a large scale project coming off the rails. First, the smart ones jump ship first because they have made their money (or political reputation), so thank you, and good night. Next go the people who don't have such a nice network of friends, but who still have marketable skills and who want to get out before they get associated with disaster.
This is the point where things start to leak to the press, which creates a problem because SOMEONE has to still manage the heap of dung from becoming too smelly. Only now, nobody wants to be associated with it, which is usually when consultancies make their money or when it gets cancelled.
Nothing changes, really, including the fact that you can never quite get to the bottom of who screwed up.
You should see the skill level of the people they employ to write such large government systems.
I once worked on a project where all the data for the web application was held as global variables.
Instead of having an object model and only passing required data to each page of the web application, each page was able to modify all of the data which was in a global structure.
A sure recipe for disaster and many wonder why the whole project collapses.
A skillful developer needs to make use of defensive programming to make any valuable contribution.
Something the idiots will surely not understand and then put you down for.
...But their Universal Jobmatch thing was an utter abortion. As an unemployed web-and-DB guy at the time, that was kind of hard to take.
Large scale government IT project descends into train wreck....not exactly news is it? Can anyone recall a large scale government IT project that wasn't a complete shambles for all, or at least some, of it's lifespan?
National Lottery seems to work OK and has done since day one - oh hang on, no that's us giving money to prop up a government shortfalls isn't it? So I guess it doesn't count.
That'll be the National Lottery which Cameltoe are taking money to operate, and which Dickie Branson said he'd operate for nothing but his bid got knocked back.
Yes. CESA. Met the (then) Inland Revenue's requirements, delivered on time and within budget. There were some teething troubles, but they were mostly associated with the manual processes rather than the IT part of the system. There wasn't much about it in the press at the time because there wasn't a post-implementation blame-fest, even Tony Collins didn't slag it off too much.
</Wipes tea from screen, desk, keyboard, phone and chin.>
I worked on that. I was brilliant :-). CESA was the last major Inland Revenue IT Programme to have been set up "in house". By the time it went live EDS were running the live system but the ground rules and requirements had already been driven from within the Public Sector. EDS delivery had been for true cost, not some fantasy sales price driven nonsense.
Like COP, CODA, CT Pay & File and BROCS the civil servants were on the hook for delivering so couldn't dick about on requirements, cut corners, delay or otherwise bugger it up because it was their nuts in the vice if things failed.
The day Civil Service lost accountability for delivery but thought their job was merely to harrass, criticise and make no decisions was the day Government IT went to the dogs
Yes, there are plenty of IT projects that are fine - you don't hear about them because 'IT system delivers on time and on budget' is a dull headline and no one reports it.
ESA was a big successful one I worked on, along with Steve Dover (mentioned in the article.). He was a real kicker of supplier arses - I bet the programme is poorer for him leaving.
The way they could get ESA to work was by contracting Atos to reject 94% of severely disabled or dying people. Only by being at 4% capacity would the system ever work at all.
The standard 'big names' have got a huge budget to complete something that any small British outfit could have delivered in a month or two. The small British outfit may of course be staffed with those who have delivered this stuff before, have a track record and good knowledge, but the company hasn't so the company can't bid.
The standard big names will punt the work out to their cheapest Indian, Chinese or Brazilian sweat shop where the staff arrive and leave by the week, who have never done anything like it before and just arrived wet behind the ear from school and will move on as soon as they've done a month and can improve their pay.
The British government will tell you it is efficient and cheaper this way, we all know it never ever succeeds and the British tax payer will have paid through the nose for a few cheap as chips foreigners to get 'on the job' training and a very limited number of stinking rich shareholders to get even richer.
Atos amongst others charge 1500+ a day and punt the work straight out to 100 a month Indians.
Well not quite...according to the new Digital Overlords in the Cabinet Office small companies are encouraged to bid for work like this. If the bid is blocked due to "the stupid it burns" you are also encouraged to complain to the CO. The idea is that gov wants to move away from the big rip off merchants to regional SME's that actually have specific skills. Well...that is the plan.
Whether or not Maxwell et al survive the experience is yet to be seen.
That small outfit would be swamped by Civil Service scrutiny alone. I was in a meeting last week where there were 4 attendees from two separate IT suppliers facing off to 18 civil servants. Of those 5 made a contribution over a period of 4 hours. The others were either their direct reports or just lost judging by the looks on their faces.
Doesn't work though. To get any sort of gov contract, you have to prove that your company is stable, well funded and unlikely to disappear suddenly in the middle of the job. Makes sense, you don't want your major supplier going into admin in the middle of a contract, but the real world upshot is that, to get a public sector contract, you first have to prove you don't need it. That's gonna rule out an awful lot of smaller companies.
I've read that bit five times now, and it just seems like a big screw you to people that don't or can't use computers.
What guarantee have I got that I'll actually be able to speak to someone that can help in a timely manner?
Yes, and - who's face do I get in when you inevitably fuck it up?
Not sure why, with budget running into the 10s of millions why anybody wouldnt consider writing the lot in house. Its a hell of a lot of programming hours with enough left over to supply them all with free pizza..
The simple answer is that outsourcing protects arses. If an outsourced project screws up, blame the vendor (they know this and pad their bids accordingly). If you do it all in house and it assumes the shape of a pear then it's your fault.
They can't write it in house for several reasons. The first one is that they simply don't have the technical analysis, architecting, design and coding skills. They are geared up to review not do.
The second reason is that DWP IT Project Managers are largely IT Illiterate. Generalists that never have and never will deliver anything tangible in IT. They are geared up to look at someone else's plan and criticise, not construct and execute it themselves.
The third reason is there are so many DWP factions. No one of them is responsible for a project in its entirety. They are akin to doggers, some like to get stuck in. Others just like to watch.
But the overwhelming reason why they won't do it in house is because that would mean making a decision, sticking to it and being accountable for it. DWP Project Management is about pinning risk and accountability on suppliers, no-one wants to be responsible for changing anything because with change comes risk.
Does anyone remember the IR/HMRC/Fujitsu fiasco ? As I recall when the tender came up no-one would bid for it, citing (quite correctly) that it was pretty much a done deal, since the incumbent would always have the advantage of not needing to port data. (Boy those proprietary data formats are so well suited to public infrastructure). So they weren't about to spunk millions on a wasted bid.
Then the EU barked about HMG needing to prove it had considered alternative tenders. So HMG had to use OUR MONEY to give to IBM, and Capita (IIRC) so they could deliver a bid which could then be ignored.
It's hard not to think FAIL about government IT.
The only fiasco I remember was with Fujitsu and EDS in 2008.
What could possibly go wrong?
Oracle and Red Hat too you say?
No recent spats there either...
When has an IT project ever gone right for the government? Too many people sitting on their elbows trying to decide the next cock up.
<--------Icon, because the government don't know either.
Given the time to do the job properly, the Civil Service can do it, and has done so. However, they are hostage to new ministers mandating whatever brilliant idea they've just spouted from their policy-holes. "Oh, and by the way, it needs to be delivered for half the money it will actually cost, by next week, and you must give the contract to my golfing buddy, Nigel." Add in the odd 180-degree turn on major requirements the day before go-live - hours of endless fun!
"I think we must be careful and not underestimate where people are at the moment. The vast majority of claims for jobseeker’s allowance are made over the telephone"
Talk about believing your own propaganda ........
It has been the case for a number of years now that all new claims were ONLY accepted over the telephone. I have enough anecdotes to write a book on this farce, anyways, that number has probably decreased ...... since it's been possible to make a new claim on-line.
Talk about watching it FAIL. When chumps like this are in (charge ?) it's so bloody predictable.
Should be described as a
Management Failure, or a
"Cabinet-Office-nickel-and-diming has slowly strangled it" failure, or a
"Nobody really wants this to work because we'll lose all our fiefdoms within the DWP which run the individual separate benefits" failure
"The minister is so thin skinned nobody speaks their mind because they get fired/moved" failure
It will deliver in April, be sure of that. But that's the thinnest veneer of functionality used by a tiny number of hand-picked individuals. The important thing is that they can say they hit their delivery date. Yes, that's the most important thing.
Sure is, we'll make it impossible to claim benefits unless you have a computer and broadband of your own. (Don't try and use one in your local library, poor people don't need books so we've closed them all). What do you mean you can't afford a computer thingy? In that case you don't exist, therefor there is no digital divide, problem solved.
Proving yet once again that sycophants of power have no real clue how complex systems work when they hire their brother-in-laws whose only real skills are sham companies with pretty stationary.
I posted a comment on Kelly Fiveash's last article on this subject ( 7+ M no internet access ) so my position is already known, but -
"an increasing proportion are made online." and "We need to tackle the digital divide, and this is a very good way of doing it."
This sounds remarkably like coercion. I have an elderly neighbour who is blind. It is so easy for her to claim benefits on-line, and to argue on-line about the correct level of her benefits.
you just wait until IDA starts kicking off. That's when you'll need your tin hats! Laugh? Can't wait until the fan starts really spinning.
And just who are the 'civil servants' in the Cabinet Office who are running the show now? Yup people who haven't got their hands dirty coding or even being an architect. 'Designers' are the new 'cool'......same as everything else in the world.
Be afraid, the politicians have handed over control to the Starbucks brigade. And that's why I'm a coward.