back to article £214m effort to modernize SAP ERP in UK govt systems marked Code Red

The UK's major government projects experts have warned a programme to overhaul ERP systems in three central government departments is undeliverable in its current state. Although named Unity, the £214 million ($276 million) shared services SAP-based ERP project, which is between tax collector HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    It's a laudable idea, handled by a bunch of bumbling gasbags

    Keeping spending to a tight leash is definitely something that should be achieved in government, no question on that, but might it have been an idea to go one department at a time and consolidate afterwards ?

    Going for entire swaths of departments at a time seems overly bold to me, especially when these projects are handled by decision-makers who have no experience in these kinds of decisions.

    But no matter, costs will overrun and delivery will be delayed, as with practically every other government project. What is important is not to achieve, but to be active.

    Like that hospital in Yes Minister which had no patients, but 500 administrative personnel.

    1. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: It's a laudable idea, handled by a bunch of bumbling gasbags

      Yes, that would be normal, but then again those department could also have their own IT departments and this had been done long ago, perhaps.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's a laudable idea, handled by a bunch of bumbling gasbags

        They do have their own IT departments.

        1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

          Re: It's a laudable idea, handled by a bunch of bumbling gasbags

          An IT department dedicated to supporting vendor delivered crap, sure. An actual IT department, hell no

    2. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: It's a laudable idea, handled by a bunch of bumbling gasbags

      I'm guessing the problem with that approach is that the different departments would choose different approaches to things that could be standardised across all the departments?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's a laudable idea, handled by a bunch of bumbling gasbags

      Why not find another country that has successfully implemented a similar project and employ them. I understand that Estonia has had some success in this regard.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only solution here is for the government to stop doing so bloody much. Just get out of our lives!

    1. James Anderson

      The UK is the only major economy to swallow the libertarian lol aid whole.

      The US talks the talk but pours billions of public money into their economy via the DOD, NASA etc.

      Thirty years of cost cutting and privatisation have wrecked the UK economy.

      It’s time to look at the evidence and conclude that a “liberal” economy just does not work.

      But there I go with an “enlightenment fallacy ” the belief that a true believers will change their minds when presented with facts and rational argument.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Thirty years of cost cutting and privatisation have wrecked the UK economy.

        It’s time to look at the evidence and conclude that a “liberal” economy just does not work.

        I'm not sure what your trying to argue. Are you trying to argue that the wildly successful* businesses in public ownership bought by Her Majesties Government that were later privatised by the government did not then fail after privatisation?

        Or were you trying to argue that despite those countries literally bankrupting the country and forcing the government to go to the IMF with a begging bowl, one of the conditions of the loan being a heavy drop in public expenditure [ie; the disposal of the loss making companies] that the loss making companies should have remained in government ownership? If so, how was that supposed to be paid for?

        *Wildly successful; at losing money. See British Leyland.

        But there I go with an “enlightenment fallacy ” the belief that a true believers will change their minds when presented with facts and rational argument.

        I look forward to a rational and fact based response.

        1. James Anderson

          Slow growth, falling living standards, most expensive energy costs, decrepit railways, sewage pouring into rivers ………..

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Sewage has always been pouring into rivers since Bazalgette built the first one; so it's more correct to say that the sewage system hasn't been completely re-built to match modern expectations to avoid doing that. Why? Cos it'd cost literally hundreds of billions across the entire sewage system because many parts filter rain water, and when it rains too hard then it overflows into the rivers and people don't want to pay for redesigning and rebuilding the entire system in one go as their bills going up hugely, so it's being done incrementally over decades by replacing old stuff that needs replacing anyway. Much like most of Europe, except that it's simply not a political issue elseware relative to other issues; for instance the Germans are mass strip mining the dirtiest sort of coal.

            With respect to "Decrepit railways"; refer to this:-

            https://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2016/may/04/privatised-nationalised-electrified-guide-uk-railways-network-rail

            Why is it struggling?

            Network Rail inherited a lot of problems from its predecessor and needed to invest heavily in improvements. To do this it was borrowing money, backed by government guarantees so the state would have to pay back its loans if it defaulted.

            Who was Network Rail's predecessor? Oh, that would have been Railtrack. So why did Railtrack have huge maintenance issues? Because they had inherited that from British Rail when the government owned it. Why did they have maintenance issues? Given a choice of maintaining railways or spending it on the NHS to buy votes, where do you think the government chose to spend money? Yeah. Hence the existing maintenance backlog.

            People have a tendency to engage in rose tinted glasses when looking back; not everything was actually better.

            most expensive energy costs

            Led by a deliberate choice demanded by the public to move power generation from a triad of coal, nuclear and gas (offering security as a failure in one area could be countered by the other two sectors) to generating all power via gas. Sorry, generating everything from renewables backed up by gas. Except that renewables don't tend to work as well as people are encouraged to think, and gas is required for cooking, heating and power generation. And as idiots support running down producing our own energy needs in favour of wanting to buy it in from abroad where we don't have any real control over the prices then it's inevitable that they will then complain it's expensive because there are no forms of power generation they'll actually accept. For instance, German electricity is cheaper. But that's because they mass stripmine lignite (the dirtiest and most polluting form of coal with the lowest power output) and burn that to get their power prices down. Are you willing to do that? No? Well, that's why our prices are higher.

            Slow growth, falling living standards

            Um. Slow growth and falling living standards are because after the nationalised industries went kaput investment money was shoved into housing because "it's safe as bricks and mortar" and we're the generation having to pay more for necessities (like power; see above) as a result and so have less disposable income and are worse off as a result.

            We've also got more of a habit of complaining, because absent of shared experiences like our cities being carpet bombed by our neighbours we tend to (from the POV of the nearly departed generations who lived through that) lack a certain perspective and complain more about smaller issues that are in most case fairly self inflicted like the higher energy costs. (ok, the Russians exploited our idiotic policies for their own benefit, but creating situations where they could do that is on us)

            So as a list of emotive keywords; top marks. However, your notably evading any form of rational fact based response, or critical thinking. ;)

    2. FlamingDeath Silver badge

      Hello, I am from the Gubbermint and I am here to help…

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Methodology Question

    Quote: "a number of key design decisions outstanding, which all three departments must agree"

    Ha.......and there was me thinking that "requirements" were a thing of the past.....so twentieth century.......

    "User Stories"....walls filled with Post-It notes......two week scrums.....

    Tell me....what happened to that "Agile Manifesto"?.......

    1. ColinPa

      Re: Methodology Question

      For most of the projects I worked on the requirements was one of the first deliverables, before you staffed up, because you may not know what skills you need! They are 6+months in and do not understand the requirements.

      A friend led a government contract providing systems across multiple departments. He called a meeting to present back to the stakeholders what he thought the requirements were. All the requirements had been "cut and pasted" from the departments into one document. Many requirements were inconsistent.

      His first question "I assume you all know each other?" quickly showed that the various departments had never met.

      He got every one to say who they were, and what they wanted out of the project. He then sat back refereeing the discussion. People had no idea of scale... "we want a list of people who...." "Really - that's about 2 million people" "what will you do with the list - ring them up?".

      My friend said that the final requirements were much simpler, as most of what they wanted was already provided else were - it just needed some glue to join the bits together.

      I think half way though the project was cancelled because they realised they didn't need it.

    2. Ken G Silver badge

      Re: Methodology Question

      Product owner. Empowered user. Decision maker.

      Government doesn't do those.

  4. Coastal cutie

    Is there anything IT related that HMRC are involved in that is actually on track to deliver?

    1. xyz Silver badge

      IR35 checks.

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Is there anything which the IT sector does competently, for any client?

  5. steamnut

    Own goal!

    One reason cited for the delays: "The programme also lacks a number of critical skills". Well the reaction by contractors to the legislation called IR35 might just be one cause.

    1. James Anderson

      Re: Own goal!

      The only reason for getting involved in these horror projects with flakey users and godawful software is -- money.

      So if you invoke IR35 the people with SAP ERP skills are just going to walk. Nobody works with this c**p for fun.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Own goal!

      Plenty of contractors sucking at government teat, don’t worry your pretty head.

  6. Tron Silver badge

    Bring back 'Yes Minister' and do an IT episode.

    quote: major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery.

    But it has a cool name. As do the other projects, which will also never work.

    quote: Baseline benefits ... are £43 million ... over its 10-year lifecycle, with £239 million cumulative efficiencies.

    But not when it goes £400m over budget.

    quote: Matrix involves eight government departments.

    'Very brave, Minister', as Sir Humphrey would have said. Nothing involving eight government departments will ever be completed.

    They couldn't even build an armoured vehicle without deafening soldiers.

    The British government have about as much chance of delivering a major technology implementation as the Faroe Islands have of sending a unicorn to Mars.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bring back 'Yes Minister' and do an IT episode.

      Private companies built the piece of shit infantry vehicle, private vendors will ultimately be in charge of overselling their shit ERP system and underdelivering the whole project. For every government fuck up there are loads of private sector companies who stuffed it full of shit grad level “developers”, made a mint and fucked off into the sunset. It’s what makes Britain great.

  7. spireite Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Skills lacking......

    There didn't need to be any mention of government, or HMRC in the subtext at all....

    'Skills lacking' is all that is needed for 99.9% of readers to know this is government department related...... such is their track record at anything IT related.

  8. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    £214m???

    If I were on the Clapham Omnibus, that figure does not seem plausible to me - too low.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: £214m???

      Think of a number - then keep adding zeros...

      "HS2 is officially ‘unachievable’ after being given red rating"

      https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/jul/30/hs2-officially-unachievable-red-rating-problems-london-birmingham

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never happen

    4 departments need to agree on requirements? Not even 1 will.

  10. Tubz Silver badge

    Another HMRC IT failure, who will get promotion and knighthood this time?

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