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The successful introduction of IT systems is a crucial element in major Government programmes to deliver better services to the public -whether through providing new services, making existing services more efficient and responsive to citizens’ needs, or improving organisational performance. A report published today by the National Audit Office identifies common threads in IT-enabled programmes and projects, to pinpoint the key factors which have contributed to success and how they can be replicated in future by the public sector.

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The NAO report features some two dozen IT-enabled programmes and projects, from both the public and the private sectors, within the UK and overseas, which demonstrate how success can be achieved. The report identifies what Government can do to enhance the chances of bringing about IT success and represents a clear challenge to departments to take action to reduce the risk of failure and embrace innovation while safeguarding the taxpayer.

From analysing these examples of IT-enabled change, the NAO identified three core principles which contribute to delivering successful IT programmes and projects:

  • Ensuring senior level engagement: clear and engaged board leadership, keeping senior decision makers informed of progress and risks and, for example, not creating undue pressure by making premature and unrealistic announcements about delivery dates
  • Acting as an “intelligent client”: understanding the business process the department is aiming to change, having the right programme management skills, training the staff and creating effective and equal relationships with suppliers
  • Realising the benefits: selling the benefits to users, winning wider support for the change, and assessing whether the programme or project has achieved what it set out to do

In the past, Government has not always shown itself to be an intelligent client, with poorly defined requirements and a lack of capacity to engage effectively with suppliers. A number of recent initiatives have been introduced aimed at improving public sector performance in managing IT projects, including the appointment of Chief Information Officers in departments and further tightening of the OGC Gateway Review process. For example, in response to insufficient numbers of programmes and projects being subject to a final Gateway Review to determine if they have delivered the benefits they set out to achieve, the Office of Government Commerce Supervisory Board has set a general rule that programmes and projects should undergo a Gate 5 Review to assess the benefits they have delivered within twelve months of “going live”.

“IT projects in the public sector have too often been associated with failure – this report provides an opportunity to change that. Learning from experience is not just a case of appreciating what went wrong, but also encompasses understanding what went right. Success can never be guaranteed, but it should not be an unfathomable mystery. The common threads among these IT programmes and projects are evidence that a favourable outcome is not a matter of luck, but is the result of sound judgement.”

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office


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