IT Project Management

Many government IT projects have become synonymous with expense, delay and failure. This has happened under governments of different parties and is a source of no satisfaction to those of us who are interested in good government services.

These failures have been the subject of criticism by many in the IT industry and by those charged with government audit such as the Public Accounts Committee. Liberal Democrats would implement changes to the way in which IT projects are managed in the public sector in response to the valid criticisms that have been made.

The nature of the changes required has been described in a number of comprehensive reports over recent years. Key changes that we would implement include the following:

Each organisation should have an IT “Director” responsible at board level. When IT is integral to the success of an organisation there must be accountability at the most senior level for its effective use and development.

Project requirements must be formally signed off rather than being left vague and subject to continual amendment.

When new legislation will require major changes in IT systems a technological impact assessment should be included in the legislative process to inform decision-making by those considering the rule changes.

Increased use should be made of rapid development methodologies. We can anticipate that government systems will need to change more frequently over time in response to public and political priorities. With a shorter systems lifecycle, over-elaborate methodologies may often no longer be appropriate.

The relationship between in-house staff and outside consultants must be carefully managed. There is an important role for external consultants to play in the IT strategies of most organisations as they cannot expect to have all the required skills amongst their permanent staff. However, an over-reliance on temporary external expertise and consequent failure to develop permanent in house skills can weaken an organisation.

There must be realistic expectations for any IT project. In many cases these should be checked by external validation. There are too many cases where the anticipated benefits of a new system cannot be realised because it has been “over-sold”. A third party opinion on the ability of a project to deliver its stated aims should be obtained at an early stage.

Far more attention should be paid to the “people” dimension of large scale IT projects. These are often seen as largely technical challenges when they in fact require a high degree of organisational change. Such change can be brought about successfully by good management of the staff involved and careful consideration of all the implications such as changed working practices and training requirements.

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