ID cards and the worst of public sector IT failures

Government tech projects are infamous for failing - and taking a lot of budget away with them.

Government IT projects are infamous for failing, going over-budget, and even being shelved.

A report last year showed that the government wastes £274 million on defunct IT projects each year, with a separate review noting that the government doesn't seem to be too good at learning from its mistakes.

Not every public sector IT project is a giant, steaming mess of failure - really - so try to keep that in mind as you read about the large IT projects that didn’t go quite as the government planned.

ID card woes

On one hand, it’s hard to call the ID card project an IT failure. It is up and running. Sort of. Cards have been doled out to foreign nationals, even if card readers don’t exist yet.

The main problem with ID cards is the politics. It’s clear to any project manager that big projects need buy in before they go ahead, and this one simply doesn’t have it. A lot of voters don’t want it, and the Conservatives have said they’ll scrap the project if they’re elected.

Really, even if the database were perfect, and card readers existed, this project would still draw criticism. That's because so many people simply don’t want it. Pair that with the tech troubles, and it's hard to call the ID card project a success – but that doesn’t stop the government from calling it that, of course.

NHS IT not very healthy

Digitising health records is necessary, but this isn’t the way to go about it. The £12.6 billion National Programme for IT is four years late and it’s only going to get worse following contractors dropping out.

One NHS trust even said its new IT systems had caused a backlog in treating patients. A report earlier this year showed nine of 31 systems needed "immediate action."

Child Support Agency a "turkey from day one"

Dubbed a “turkey from day one” by auditors, the [a href="

http://www.itpro.co.uk/119151/child-support-agencys-it-a-turkey-from-day-one" target="_blank" ]£381 million IT system at the CSA[/a] wasn't just a failure, the tech managed to down wider reforms and the agency itself too.

Even though the system was years late, it still launched with 14 critical faults. Such technical issues meant 250,000 non-compliance issues hadn’t been dealt with, meaning £3.5 billion in child support never got paid. Fixing the errors will cost some £320 million.

"The agency threw huge sums of money at a new IT system which was intended to underpin the reforms," said Edward Leigh, the chairman of the Public Account Committee (PAC). "The Department for Work and Pensions never really knew what it was doing in dealing with the contractors EDS and the system was a turkey from day one."

The CSA has since been replaced by a new organisation.

Jobcentre Plus fails to work

IT is supposed to make our day-to-day jobs easier. But that's not what happened with Jobcentre Plus.

The IT systems rolled out by EDS actually hurt productivity, as users had to re-enter identical data for every new customer they worked with. A parliamentary report said the systems “lacked the "basic functionality that would be expected in a modern office.”

Because of how slow the systems were, advisers spent 20 per cent less time with the unemployed people they were there to help than they should have, the report noted.

Millions of pounds to make life more difficult? That’s definitely a failure.

DoT’s shared sevices

The point of shared services is to share costs, and many councils and other organisations have managed to successfully join forces for efficiences.

The Department of Transport’s shared services didn’t save the expected £57 million, but instead racked up £81 million in costs. Whoops.

After its launch in 2007, the system suffered from instability, made worse by poor vendor relations, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO). "It is disappointing to see a programme which aimed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a department leaving it on current projections some £80 million worse off," said Tim Burr, head of the NAO.

"Departments need to be realistic about the challenges of implementing shared services and to manage suppliers effectively," he added.

MoD fails its mission

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is one public agency where IT really is mission critical. And the missions really are critical too. That makes it all the more a shame that the MoD couldn’t sort out its own computer upgrade project.

In 2005, the MoD launched the Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) project. Worth £7 billion, it was supposed to roll out computers for 300,000 users across 2,000 sites. No easy deployment, but delays and out of date systems lead the PAC to call it “badly planned in important respects.”

As of last year, just 45,600 terminals were in place, and the budget had climbed by £182 million. The lead supplier in the ATLAS consortium underestimated the complexity of the project, the PAC said.

Since then, the MoD has agreed to PAC recommendations to fix the DII project, so hopefully that solves some of the troubles.

Prison IT failure in a “class of its own”

Of the National Offender Management Information System deployment, the PAC’s Leigh said had this to say: “This Committee hears of troubled government projects all too frequently. But the litany of failings in this case are in a class of their own. A new project team has been brought in. They cannot afford to repeat these kindergarten mistakes."

Keep in mind that criticism is from a man whose job it is to complain about public sector IT, so this was a pretty big failure.

So what happened? Designed to track all prisoners in databases and link up infrastructure, this prison IT system was delayed by three years, doubled in costs to $690 million, and still didn’t deliver all of the services it was supposed to include.

In 2008, the programme was rebooted with a new delivery date of 2011, so hopefully they can clean things up by then.

DWP IT needs work

Processing errors at the Department of Work and Pensions meant the amount of benefits lost doubled over five years to almost £2 billion a year.

And despite being warned about such problems in 2003, it took the DWP nearly five years to roll out FRAIMS (Fraud Referral and Intervention Management System) at a cost of £65 million – which is pretty cheap given the losses.

So to recap, the DWP was losing £2 billion a year because of processing errors from its out of date IT system... and it took five years to sort it out. Do the maths. It’ll make you cry.