Major UK IT projects at risk of failure, warns government watchdog

The UK government is spending billions on tech projects that are at risk of failure, warns a report by the Major Projects Authority.
Written by Sam Shead, Contributor on

Several major IT projects in the UK are at risk of failure and need urgent action, according to a report from a government watchdog.

Both the G-Cloud programme and the Universal Credit programme are among those IT projects at risk, according to The Major Projects Authority (MPA) Annual Report

The MPA was established in 2011 to monitor some of the government's biggest and most expensive projects. It claims that it has already saved taxpayers £1.7bn by intervening in failing projects, and terminating them when necessary.

The 191 projects taken into account by the MPA this year are said to be worth £353.7bn.

Eight of the 191 projects were given a red light rating, which is the rating used by the MPA use to describe projects they consider to be unachievable.

At least four of the eight projects labelled red are IT projects. 

For example, the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) Shared Services Programme — given the task of establishing an MoJ Shared Services Organisation that is supported by an Enterprise Resource Platform (ERP) and associated technology stack — was given a red rating.

The MoJ was initially aiming to deploy the Shared Services Programme in late 2012 and complete the deployment in 2013. However, "the need to review MoJ client department change requests and issues encountered regarding the progress of the application design and infrastructure design for the new ERP system mean that it will not now be possible to complete deployment before 2014", according to the report.

Forecast costs for the project have risen from £58.9m to £127m, partly due to costs that have been incurred as a result of procurement delays. 

The MPA also gave two Ministry of Defence (MoD) projects a red rating, including the £5bn Defence Core Network Services programme, which will replace the MoD's computers, telephones, video conferencing equipment and networks.

The £1b Watchkeeper intelligence project was also given a red rating. It aims to provide members of the armed forces with 24-hour weather, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance information. The project consists of unmanned air vehicles, sensors, data links and ground control stations.

Elsewhere, the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) Universal Credit programme to dismantle and rebuild the benefits system, received an amber/red rating.

The Cabinet Office's G-Cloud Programme was also given an amber/red warning because it still faces a number of significant challenges, despite getting a large number of sponsors and SME's onboard.

"In particular, departments have yet to fully change their culture in terms of approach to ICT as old ways of doing things are so deeply engrained. Key to this is a reshaping of the programme to focus on the commercial aspects of the CloudStore as a retail proposition, improving the user experience and engaging the buying community more directly in the objectives of the programme," the MPA said.

"Crucial to large scale take-up will be working with departments and the Cabinet Office spending controls team to enforce use of the CloudStore across central government."

The report also said that scaling G-Cloud had been difficult because of a lack of funds and resources.

MPA head David Pitchford said: "I've led major projects around the world and I have to say that when I started this job in the UK standards were not great. There have been big changes and Britain is now well on the way to becoming world-class.

"The Major Projects Authority has real power to intervene in failing projects and stop taxpayers' money being wasted. Of course it's just the start, we must keep up the pressure all the time — our annual report will make sure that happens."

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