Par for the course?
Readers who have knocked around a bit know this is no isolated incident of IT related management incompetence in the public sector and that neither is the private sector immune. Under the watch of UK governments there have been decades of overspent, under performing, and abandoned IT projects.These are revealed through accountability to the National Audit Office and other watchdogs including cross-party committees in Parliament. The private sector is relatively unscathed; this is not a consequence of the neo-liberal much vaunted myth of enterprise inevitably being more efficient in delivering services to society (remnants thereof because 'society' is an invalid concept) than the public sector, but rather through lack of independent scrutiny; non-executive board members and share holders seemingly are unable, incapable, or unwilling to intervene unless disaster noticeably hits the bottom line.
In the public sector large scale cock-ups almost inevitably are documented. One is led to ask what the point is of record keeping and bodies such as the National Audit Office given that lessons do not appear to be learned. Projects repetitively grossly overspent, failing to deliver everything promised, or abandoned, should not be put down to happenstance (repeated bad luck) or to serial incompetence by individuals participating in R&D and implementation. The problem runs more deeply and is remediable.
Two particular factors impeding efficient delivery are as follows.
1. Inappropriate involvement of people after an initial consultation process is complete.
2. Deficiencies in the tightly regulated process of putting work out to tender in the private sector.
Wide consultation among those to be affected is wholly justified at the initial stages of defining aims and objectives, and acceptable technological approaches. This is integral to effective change-management. Thereafter, specific individuals/groups may be consulted on a needs basis. Yet, after initial stages projects must be managed by one individual capable of grasping the broad picture and of questioning subject specialists with well directed enquiries and ability to recognise bullshit.
The persons commissioning the project e.g. a minister and senior civil servants, must resist temptation to set up a plethora of advisory, monitoring, and oversight committees. Apart from a tiny number of non-specialists, possibly including MPs, given oversight of financial probity and with clout to assist the project manager bat away interference by unwanted parties, all matters concerning instituting committees, work groups, and advisory consultations should rest wholly with the project manager.
Whereas committees tend to produce ungainly camels, projects directed by visionary single individuals have prospect of creating elegant unicorns.
The matter of tendering process needs addressing too. In attempting to guarantee fair access to public service contracting and to stifle corrupt practices it actually places undue restriction on choices made by people commissioning work from the private sector. Coupled with the overall aim of inviting tenders in order to get a product or service at advantageous price the end result can be far inferior to that anticipated.
So far as I know, the principles of inviting and deciding among tenders are uniform in the public sector. Perhaps these should differ according to circumstance. An important consideration is the cost and other consequences of wrong, despite following the rules, decisions when offering contracts. For instance, contracting after tender for supply of paper for office printers has fewer adverse consequences, and these less likely to be irremediable, if the suppler doesn't come up to the mark than if complicated equipment and services are sought.
Also, the current tendering process is no guarantee against corruption at any level in public services; indeed instances of extremely dodgy decisions at ministerial level have been documented over the years; doubtless, these are the ineptly handled and thus observable cases of graft among centuries old tradition.
This is summed up in a remark (likely wrongly attributed to Einstein): The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.