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NAO: How to get government IT right

Local authorities should ask nine questions to ensure IT success, says a report which looks into government failures
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

Government auditors have published a set of guidelines on how to deliver successful public sector IT projects.

In the report, released last Friday, the National Audit Office (NAO) laid out nine questions which local government organisations should answer before proceeding with a new technology project.

The questions, based on a year of research, focus on managing change, decision-making structures, performance incentives and managing skills. There are three "threads" of success, according to the NAO. These are: senior-level engagement, active participation on behalf of clients, and winning support for change.

The NAO highlighted 24 successful government technology implementations, including Transport for London's Congestion Charge and the Chip and Pin payment scheme.

The UK IT industry gave the NAO report a mixed reception. The British Computer Society (BCS) said it "warmly welcomed the report, which it believes has added a much needed fillip to IT's negative media image by spotlighting genuine programme successes."

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), which was formed by the merger earlier this year of the Institutions of Electrical Engineers (IEE) and Incorporated Engineers (IIE), also said it backed the report. But its chief executive Alf Roberts warned that: "It is imperative that the Government commits to the use of the nine key questions across all tiers of the public service."

Trade association Intellect said project challenges persisted. "Challenges do remain for government in implementing public sector IT projects — the biggest of which is the embedding of best practice, said director general John Higgins. "If achieved, this would ensure greater consistency, and therefore higher project success rates."

The NAO's report did not look into any of the Government's less succesful IT projects.

In June the auditors evaluated the £6.2bn NHS IT programme, NPfIT, while insiders have claimed its final report was watered down. The NAO has since been urged to revisit that investigation.

The department has also investigated the Child Support Agency, after the costs of its IT system ran over £1bn.

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