back to article Management of UK govt's £158b property estate held back by failed IT project

The UK government has failed to get a grip on the management of its £158 billion ($190 billion) property portfolio because of a failure to replace an ageing database system. According to a report from MPs, Cabinet Office, which helps run cross-departmental government, does not have the data or IT system necessary to oversee …

  1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Requirements analysis?

    The statement "In 2020, the Cabinet Office shifted from collecting data on the civil estate, such as offices and warehouses, to collecting data on all government property, including for example, hospitals and schools. However, the existing government property database, the seventeen-year-old ePIMS system, is unable to accommodate this additional data" suggests to me that their requirements analysis was inadequate, or, possibly completely lacking.

    I suppose I should be happy that at least they are doing due diligence on alternative IT suppliers, after the first one failed, but this does look a bit like a minister having a 'good idea' about combining all of the management and data for the whole of HMG's buildings under one management to 'save money' without having thought it through.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Requirements analysis?

      Well it is true that managing that many cells in Excel can be demanding!!!

      1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

        Re: Requirements analysis?

        and at £22 billion the cost of an Excel 97 license is really getting out of hand...

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    So they wasted £2 million

    Well, it looks like there's room for Oracle (or SAS) to hoover up a cool £50 million over five years, assorted with all the usual promises and below-par delivery.

    Oh wait, I was confused with IBM.

    Oracle delivers, it's only after delivery that it bleeds you dry in licencing costs.

  3. Captain Scarlet Silver badge


    Why do I fancy a Pimms now O_O

  4. Binraider Silver badge

    The obsession with data is unhealthy.

    In asset management, which is what this is, the starting point is what decisions do you need to make; and then only then, to determine what data is needed to support it.

    By starting with data you go down a rabbit hole of infinite requirements and zero direction.

    Speaking from experience.

    1. hoola Silver badge

      However this is the usual route.

      Pen-pushers believe that the answer to everything like this is to collect data.

      Usually they don't even know what they want to collect so just chuck a random list as the poor sods that have to find it and then enter it.

  5. Peter2 Silver badge

    “The Cabinet Office told us that it considered commercially available systems in 2018 but believed off-the-shelf options, at the time, were not capable of receiving data from 160 different bodies across government,” the PAC report said.

    Why does the number of data sources matter?

    All you need to do is specify a standard that everybody will supply the data in, preferably something like CSV that's boring, reliable and universally understood and supported. Then you have one data format and 160 import jobs a month. If they get emailed in monthly then you want an email parser to save each attachment in a specified file system location, and then schedule run an import script to import from that location periodically.

    Even if 160 different departments are providing the data via email in 160 different formats and you can't change the incoming formats then as so long as you know what's coming each month then switching it to a single format is merely tedious and time consuming to write the definitions, not technically challenging. Lets say that it takes one person one day to figure out what data is what and specifying put this in column1, this in column 2 etc, one day for programming it and one day testing it works and picking up on any faults afterwards then for 160 data sources that's 7 months work for 3 people; or 3.5 months work for 6 people.

    How the hell do organisations manage to spend millions and multiple years doing these things? Even if you'd got one person doing the job it ought to be done in two years, even including holidays etc.

    1. froggreatest

      Hours spent in conference calls

      This is a monumental integration job. You’d need to speak with every rep from each org to change even the smallest thing. Each change would take ages to do because departments have folks who are either too busy or too new to the job which makes it extremely hard to do even the simplest stuff. Then there are some exceptions in the system as usual, which is time consuming to implement.

      I’ve been there, the projects take ages to agree upon (time=money) then you get the purchase order and something completely unexpected comes up from one of the users… You could easily burn through a mill a year and fail to deliver because multiple reasons beyond your control.

    2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      I deal with archive census data. That's seven different formats so far. So, I wrote seven varients of the same program to scan through the incoming data and spew it out in a single unified format, and then all the data processing is on that single unified format.

      1. Martin Gregorie

        I've done more or less the same: my task was to design and build a process to populate a data warehouse with data extracted from the logs generated by various makes and models of mobile cellphone switches in a national phone network for later analysis.

        It wasn't particularly difficult to do that or to tune the system to run fast enough to translate the logs into a common format and load them into the data warehouse faster than it arrived. It wasn't even particularly hard to make the process scalable.

        The interesting bit was the requirement to handle additional log formats as and when new switches writing them were added to the network, and to do it without any code changes being required.

        IOW the production system had to incorporate a data dictionary and use it to drive the processes handling the conversion of incoming logs to the common format as well as loading the transformed data into the data warehouse while running fast enough to stay ahead of the deluge of incoming logged data.

  6. jollyboyspecial Silver badge

    A failed government IT contract? Shome mishtake shurely

  7. steamnut

    How much?

    The piece says that the database is for just 136,000 properties. And it costs a cool £22 billion a year to maintain? The supplier must be rubbing his hands with glee.

    And Landmark's work to-date consists of just 140 webpages that can be used to enter information about property assets.

    Someone is taking the Pi$$ for sure. If you can get paid so much for a web page then count me in.

    1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

      Re: How much?

      "The piece says that the database is for just 136,000 properties. And it costs a cool £22 billion a year to maintain?"

      It said that the property portfolio costs £22bn to maintain, not the database.

    2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: How much?

      Umm, not sure I properly understood your post, but the article says

      "the government estate, which costs around £22 billion ($26 billion) a year to maintain"

      You seem to imply the IT costs that much.

  8. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    The government has a property portfolio?

    Wait till they the penny drops. When they realise that they've not already flogged it all off on the cheap to an entity in an offshore tax haven, and then lease it all back at eye watering prices, they will, they will.

    Just think back to what happened to the HMRC and the military personnel property portfolios

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The government has a property portfolio?

      Perhaps start by flogging off the Palace of Westminster to an American conglomerate who'll turn it into a world beating casino, saving taxpayers the estimated £22bn to rewire and replumb it. Move Parliament and central government to modern premises outside of London with onsite student style accommodation blocks for MPs and watch the savings rack up.

  9. luis river

    Dont is money matter

    That "big" IT British affair only it have solution thinking in "Big" actors, only American their ones had e.g. DELL, ORACLE, IBM, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, UNISYS; but the better company specializing in migration IT systems, I believed its HPE co. The IT history that shows. Merry Christmas. !

  10. DarkwavePunk

    This is one of those things...

    ...that me and a bunch of mates could knock up in a boozy week-long bender on magic mushrooms (even ignoring the Pink Monkey Bird) for a few million quid.

  11. James Anderson

    Staffing problems.

    Could it be that none of the contracted with the correct skill set wanted to be stuck with IT35?

    1. Ashto5 Bronze badge

      Re: Staffing problems.

      Or even IR35

  12. Ashto5 Bronze badge

    Splash the cash

    MP’s and civil servants throw our money around like it’s snowing.

    Define what you need to support for these properties

    Name, address

    Repairs based on a defined list e.g roof, damp, wood rot

    Then have a list of accepted contractors to do repairs then offer a simple bidding platform for the work

    Each day the property manager inputs work required, take away their ability to organise the work payment without going through the new system

    Job done

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like