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IT skills gap costs Britain billions

UK IT workers are ignoring best practice and could do more to be professional, a study claims

A report published by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Computer Society on Wednesday warned that the UK is wasting billions of pounds a year through the mismanagement of IT projects.

According to the study, the level of professionalism in software engineering is "generally lower" than in other branches of engineering, and the British education system isn't producing IT workers of a high enough calibre to cope with today's increasingly complex technology projects.

Other problems cited are a lack of project-management skills among senior managers, and a failure to implement best practice in software engineering and IT projects.

"Whilst the most pressing problems relate to the people and processes involved in complex IT projects, further developments in methods and tools to support the design and delivery of such projects could also help to raise success rates," the report said.

"In particular, basic research into complexity is required to facilitate more effective management of the increasingly complex IT projects being undertaken."

It's estimated that a total of £22.6bn will be spent on UK IT projects this year, of which the public sector will contribute £12.4bn.

The government is pushing for IT to be deployed more widely in the public sector, as part of its drive for increased efficiency. But its track record is mixed, and includes several high-profile failures such as the Libra project. This was meant to provide a standard IT system for the nation's magistrate's courts but ran massively over budget and behind schedule.

Richard Allan, Liberal Democrat IT spokesman, warned this week that it is much harder to achieve real cost savings through IT than some people understand.

"It's all about making doctors, nurses and -- dare I say it -- tax collectors more efficient," Allan told the Linux User and Developer Expo 2004 in London.

"Cost savings are the Holy Grail, but the only people who managed to find the Holy Grail were both pure and slightly deranged. I think most ministers would fail the purity test."

Click here to see the full report from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Computer Society.