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A government body tasked with flagging up troublesome Whitehall projects has been accused of secrecy and ineptitude over its handling of the Department for Work and Pensions' widely panned Universal Credit programme. MPs sitting on the Public Account Committee said in a report published today that the Major Projects Authority, …

Are there ANY success stories?

I'm genuinely interested to know: Can anyone point out a major government IT project in the last decade that has been a success? Or even simply come in on budget?

On second thoughts, I wonder if I needed to include "IT" in that sentence.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

We ordered a bunch of keyboards and mice - we got them at bottom dollar prices, and they arrived within the six week delivery period.

Does that count?

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Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Well it's good to hear, but I'm not sure that it qualifies as "major".

My personal (least) favourite example is the £469m down the tubes with no usable output for the fire service.

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Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Projects which involve us mugs paying more money to the government seem to have gone in OK.

As examples:

- HMRC Real-time Information

- London congestion-charging scheme

- Automatic issuing of fines triggered by speed cameras

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Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Good (if depressing) point.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

The last two have common code. And CCS was only delivered because the PM put a stake in the ground and said whatever spec he had in his hands by such and such a date was going to be what he built. Any changes after that date would be subject to formal change control and the delivery would slip.

AC as I shouldn't have even been told that....

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Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Buying tax disc on line works well, though now my little local post office does them I suppose I should go there to help keep them open.

And the invasion of Iraq, though a non-IT project in its origins, was completely successful in terms of generating hardware and software contracts for the MIC. Eleven years on, and it still keeps returning profits to shareholders.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Are there ANY success stories? - DVLA

The EVL (Electronic Vehicle Licensing) system was delivered nearly 10 years ago, and AFAIK, was within the timescales and budgets allocated (at least the project executive director took the bonus payments - not that he passed any of them down to the people who had been asked to work 48+ hour weeks for the last 6 months before the delivery date!)

It's only recently had a slight facelift to get the gov.uk makeover. For about 3 years, it showed the old direct.gov branding, even after that top level website was shutdown.

So it's really been a case of leave-well-alone.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

yep that was a good one. But it was a good idea, and the question has to be asked WHY DO WE HAVE so many different fire brigades and WHY DO WE HAVE so many different police forces?

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Bronze badge

Re: Are there ANY success stories? YES

I worked on Ken's congestion charging scheme, it met the defined goals (which you may not agree with), started on time and delivered for the budget.

I wouldn't want to do it again tho!

J.

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Bronze badge

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Ac,

Ccs was delivered because the delivery team had clear requirements, understood them and did not take any cack from anyone.

And the innovative techy bits were proven in a technical design study.

J.

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Bronze badge

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Too late for the tax disc, as from October 2014 it is no more and will, like MoT and Motor Insurance, be checked from the DVLA database.

Looks like your sub-PO is going to need more sales of sundries...

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Bronze badge

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Divide and rule I should think, trying to prevent one copper from becoming de-facto PM or Home Secretary.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Whilst not a success story, I would like to propose the NHS System as one that's got worse (i.e. it is no longer fit for purpose) now that the plug has been pulled.

Records lost, scans lost, X-Rays lost...

I went for the result of my brain injury last week. I sat down with the consultant, had the small talk and then I asked "What happened to me? What was the cause and what's the outlook?"

"Let's have a look, shall we?" he said opening my file.

Apart from one sheet of paper it was totally empty. The sheet of paper referred to something else that happened years ago.

"Where's my MRI scan results?"

"Not here."

"I had one of these EEG thingummyjigs on my head. Where's that result?"

"Not here.", he said starting to shift unconfortably on his chair.

"The nurse technican told me that she'd flagged up something 'interesting' on my results. Have you any idea what that may have been?"

"Sorry, no." Squirms

"I went to another hospital near here for some tests. Any idea of those results?"

"Um. No." He's starting to look uncomfortable now.

"Well, they called me back for a third set of tests. Any idea why?"

"None at all"

"Can we look on the computer for any of this stuff? The scans must be there"

"Indeed they shall. Let me log in...."

A minute later.

"Um, nothing. There is nothing on the system for you at all. Other than this X-Ray from years ago."

"Yes, that's my old X-Ray for another issue but nothing to do with the brain injury. Is that all you have?"

"Er, yes."

"So, what exactly can you tell me?"

"Nothing"

"Nothing?"

"Nothing at all. Sorry"

"So why have I got this appointment which took me hours to get here?"

"Don't know sorry"

And it went on. Before the NHS system was pulled it worked. Of sorts. Now it's worse than it was before the project was initiated. Hence this is the reason why I am voting for the NHS IT Project as being a relative success whilst it was running.

AC for obvious reasons.

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FAIL

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

The IRIS system worked really well, was apparently under budget and made travelling through airports a lot swifter.

Given its success it was canned as the unions feared it would replace the joyous individuals that are employed to sit in booths and welcome visitors to the UK with a smile and a wave.

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The invasion of Iraq

You should read Donald Rumsfeld/Pentagon plan for the invasion of Iraq. One hundred pages long and by page 40 they were discusing how to protect Microsoft's copyright in the new free Iraq. So I think you could class it an IT project.

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Re: Are there ANY success stories?

I've worked on a few. For example the IT system for ESA (employment and support allowance) was huge and that was on time and on budget in 2008

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Sorry, whose database now? I don't believe the DVLA keep those databases in Milton Keynes up to date...

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Bronze badge

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

The problem is not really the government, its the requirement of the people that government is fair. The Gov has to ask for a project and three vendors have to bid, minimum. These bids are essentially random guesses since the spec is not written at that stage, yet the entire budget must be specified in detail along with hardware requirements despite knowing nothing of how the system will work. The reason they can't ask three companies to do the design is that that would allow the other two to undercut on the implementation and blame failure on the winning design. Because there is no design, the wording goes to the lawyers and everything gets very specific. Profit comes from changes to the spec, which was written before the design.

I've racked my brain and can't think of a better way which would be allowed to happen without MPs being accused of back hand deals with their IT supplier mates. We can either have open government spending on "failed projects" OR successful overpriced contracts to mates. The two are mutually exclusive because the design must be done by those who implement and the design should be done before the budget is set and hardware agreed.

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Silver badge

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

>These bids are essentially random guesses since the spec is not written at that stage, yet the entire budget must be specified in detail

This isn't just a government problem - I've seen it many times in commerce too.

When the customer fails to provide a spec, things go down hill fast. Incumbant outsourcers love this sort of thing, smaller companies on fixed-price contracts have to have very good legal teams and keep the sales chaps in check.

The best thing to do is to get the spec written as a separate project. If done by an outside company, let them know they have no chance to even bid for the implementation.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Yes, the conversion of the Duke of Edinburgh to an android simulant went well, apart from the occasional verbal gaff from the software (Windsor 98SE). So, hardly any difference at all.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Are there ANY success stories? @ mdava

"Can anyone point out a major government IT project in the last decade that has been a success?"

How about any of the GCHQ surveillance programs?

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Bronze badge

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

Yes seen that so many times.

Someone has a fairy (not a mis-spelling) idea for a requirement thinks a computer system could do it and the first questions are How Long will it take? and How much?

As the idea is bounced around the teams The budget is reduced by 10% as it passes up each level of the negotiation management chain Once finally approved the budget is set in stone, the delivery date is reduced again and the poor Oiks are set to work.

Couple of points

1) Budget is a fancy word for Guess.. The quality of your guess is directly proportional to the time and effort spent exploring and defining the proposal and it's likely construction method.

2) The people who define missed budgets are never accused of being bad at their jobs. It's the people who can't acheive them, and didn't set them, that 'fail'..

3) If you really want to annoy analysts insist on asking them how many words will be in their final specification document. When they explode with "How do I know I haven't written it yet.." just smile ...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

We have your results. It's called Brain Fog and is totally 100% incurable.

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Bronze badge

Re: Are there ANY success stories?

I disagree. Having a third party design the software is usually a bad idea.

The answer is to make sure that any given project doesn't exceed about 6 months worth of work, a year at the absolute most. As each piece is completed, let the consultants bid for the next piece while everyone, including the public, has total access to the source code. When sending in their proposal each company should be allowed to identify an area the want to recode along with the reasons for it.

That would solve a majority of this.

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Like they care....

They simply dont care. It's not their money. And, as the last few years has shown, if they run out of our money to spend, they can 'print' more. Why would you even try to be careful? It's like playing a game with an 'infinite cash' cheat mode switched on.

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Silver badge

The government's big problem

Is an inability to create a proper spec for anything, and a compulsive need to mess about changing such specs that have been created after development starts. If they could sort those two out then they actually might stand a chance.

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Re: The government's big problem

Isn't that actually "the big problem of everybody who has specifying and purchasing power and doesn't understand how things work"?

In more than ten years of my working for them, one company signally failed to produce a proper specification for anything. It was always "You do it and we'll tell you what's wrong", followed by constant changes. Then they got a new general manager who decreed that this must stop. There must be a change freeze, every change must be reviewed, scheduled and nothing must reach customers which had not been 100% tested.

Result? Pissed off customers as well known bugs that were in the pipeline had to wait their turn to be reviewed and scheduled for fix.

The problem of organisational chaos is that, unless you have an actual omnipotent deity in charge of development, separating the light from the darkness takes a lot more than 24 hours and you can't stop the universe while doing it.

I suspect that this is the problem at the heart of government; the real world keeps changing and you can't take a decade off governing to write the spec for Whitehall 2024 and then implement it.

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Silver badge

Re: The government's big problem

That sort of iterative development works if you have your own in-house teams with good and regular liaison with the end-users. The government insists on contracting the work out on a per project basis, and no company is going to bid on a project without knowing what they are expected to produce and how much effort it will take (and adding a good deal of padding knowing the governments history on this).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The government's big problem

Actually the government's big problem is that thanks to cost-cutting price now forms 60-80 percent of the weighting when deciding to award a tender.

The tender process is a legal requirement because whilst in banking or industry any corruption has resulted in a bit of tut-tutting and the occasional conviction when it happens in government new laws get drafted "to prevent this ever happening again". Because of a few rotten apples over the years central and local government is now hamstrung when it comes to choosing a supplier as it has to go to tender for almost any major project, and then the politicos require it be done as cheaply as possible. Result: fail after fail.

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Coat

"failing to adequately admonish ministers and top civil servants "

You don't say ?

I can't believe how hard my gob is smacked.

The only thing ministers and top civil servants fear is not getting their OBE before their retirement. That appears to be the only unknown, if I refer to my extensive studies of the well-known documentary : Yes Minister and the added appendix : Yes, Prime Minister.

The level of detail in these productions is simply astounding - as a matter of fact, I think I need a refresher course.

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Unhappy

New at 11

Government tells lies.

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As opposed to how well the private sector banks can hoover up money on false pretences, lose legendary amounts of money and then insist on being bailed out to enable then to continue paying fabulous salaries to the men who lost the money in the first place. Compared to these idiots the public sector are beginners.

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Anonymous Coward

Please - the private sector are perfection personified. No private sector contract or initiative has ever failed. Clearly any govt IT failures were down to incompetent civil servants, and in no case in known history were there any issues with the advice given to government by consultants and suppliers. When government contracts inevitably fail it is ALWAYS the fault of the medium ranking project officer, and in no case is it ever the fault of the minister who got the job because his great great grandfather was a drinking buddy of the Prince Regent.

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Silver badge

Keep schtum

"If only we can suppress the facts till after May 7 ... we'll all be non-execs at Raytheon by June"

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Silver badge

The only problem with Universal Credit is hiding its true intent until it's too late.

The eventual target is to shut down all benefit payments and leave everyone who has committed the crime of being sick, disabled, unemployed, or just paid too little to survive, to starve and die.

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Silver badge

Quite right

And that means, when it's broken, it's working

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Unhappy

But if the MPA published more frequently Ministers would have to explain their f**k ups more often

And they don't like that.

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IT Angle

Just Why?

What is it about UK/English public projects that are bleeding obvious and 'just have to be done' - border records, offender management, NHS records, universal credit... that makes them such disaster zones. No, seriously, what would systems experts actually recommend to get these kind of things done properly?

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