More trouble for NHS IT Programme

May 30, 2008 6:28 PM

RobotdocThe recent termination of Fijutsu's involvement in the NHS's National Programme for IT (NPfIT) will mean yet more delays to this most ill-advised and expensive of government IT projects. Now almost three years behind schedule, and over £ 10 billion pounds over budget, delivery of the NPfIT is now likely to be pushed back further, and despite safeguards, costs are likely to rise too.


Fijutsu’s departure, following unsuccessful negotiations to resolve differences with the NHS over contractual obligations, provides further illustration - if any were needed - of the inevitable problems associated with government IT procurement. Following the disasters at the Passport agency, Magistrates courts, Rural Payments Agency and the Child Benefits agency, one would think that this government would have learnt some important lessons about the limits and complexity of massive IT programs. Some argue that lessons have been learnt from the past; the cost of Fijutsu’s departure should fall largely on the Japanese company and the decision to split the project over regions means that the project will not come to a sudden halt. But it's unlikely that even these safeguards will deliver the protection to the taxpayer that they promised, and they don't even begin to address the more fundamental problems
involved.


NPfIT is a perfect case study of how not to order IT; too many interests and people involved, leading to contradictory specifications. Suppliers complained that the governments lack of clarity about what it wanted, and unrealistic expectations about what can be delivered, led to inevitable disaster. This was matched by a notable lack of consultation with those who are set to use the system most, GP's and
front-line hospital staff. And too compound the situation further, the program is overseen by a centralizing civil service which posses little or no experience in delivering complex IT systems, and so is easily mislead by private partners and contractors. 


It is the very volatility of politics that is perhaps most damaging to government IT projects though. Government priorities change over the duration of an IT project and the project is expected to change with them. No viable product ever emerged from such an environment. If for no reason other than this, the ID card project should be quickly abandoned. If not, it could take NPfIT's place, maybe even the Dome's, as Labour's ultimate 'big-government' folly. 

RobotdocThe recent termination of Fijutsu's involvement in the NHS's National Programme for IT (NPfIT) will mean yet more delays to this most ill-advised and expensive of government IT projects. Now almost three years behind schedule, and over £ 10 billion pounds over budget, delivery of the NPfIT is now likely to be pushed back further, and despite safeguards, costs are likely to rise too.


Fijutsu’s departure, following unsuccessful negotiations to resolve differences with the NHS over contractual obligations, provides further illustration - if any were needed - of the inevitable problems associated with government IT procurement. Following the disasters at the Passport agency, Magistrates courts, Rural Payments Agency and the Child Benefits agency, one would think that this government would have learnt some important lessons about the limits and complexity of massive IT programs. Some argue that lessons have been learnt from the past; the cost of Fijutsu’s departure should fall largely on the Japanese company and the decision to split the project over regions means that the project will not come to a sudden halt. But it's unlikely that even these safeguards will deliver the protection to the taxpayer that they promised, and they don't even begin to address the more fundamental problems
involved.


NPfIT is a perfect case study of how not to order IT; too many interests and people involved, leading to contradictory specifications. Suppliers complained that the governments lack of clarity about what it wanted, and unrealistic expectations about what can be delivered, led to inevitable disaster. This was matched by a notable lack of consultation with those who are set to use the system most, GP's and
front-line hospital staff. And too compound the situation further, the program is overseen by a centralizing civil service which posses little or no experience in delivering complex IT systems, and so is easily mislead by private partners and contractors. 


It is the very volatility of politics that is perhaps most damaging to government IT projects though. Government priorities change over the duration of an IT project and the project is expected to change with them. No viable product ever emerged from such an environment. If for no reason other than this, the ID card project should be quickly abandoned. If not, it could take NPfIT's place, maybe even the Dome's, as Labour's ultimate 'big-government' folly. 

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