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Govt to run all IT projects through Treasury watchdog

We could have done with this two years ago

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The government has announced that in future all IT projects undertaken by the civil service will have to be run through a procurement watchdog - an offshoot of the Treasury called the Office of Government Commerce (OGC). The announcement follows yet another embarrassing failure in the dumping of Siemens multi-million pound document management system for the immigration service a week ago.

This news is in fact nothing new - it was decided last year that all high-risk projects (and that includes all IT projects) would be run through the OGC from January this year. However, the immigration debacle has caused the government to engage in a bit of damage limitation.

The OGC runs what it calls a Gateway Review, which comprises five "gateways" through which projects have to pass on the way to implementation. The gateways run as follows:

  1. Confirm business justification of project
  2. Confirm the method of purchase and supply
  3. Make sure everything has been thought of before contract is awarded
  4. Confirm system ready to be rolled out
  5. Confirm the benefits that it was supposed to bring have been achieved

We've checked out the documentation behind all the gateways (they're all available on the OGC's excellent Web site) and it's fairly comprehensive and, dare we say it, impressive - based as it is on the private sector.

However, while forcing all future projects through this system will inevitable save money (the OGC reckons it has saved £150 million from a total of £3 billion worth of projects, at the cost of £3 million), its implementation will not mean the end of government IT cock-ups.

Why? Because the major failing of the immigration project, as well as the passport project, post office project and benefit project is not covered by any of the gateways - namely, the time between awarding the contract and actually receiving the goods. The Siemens system for immigration for example was 18 months late. Under the new system, the system may well have worked better, but the huge problems and cost associated with the delay would not have been tackled.

That said, if the OGC manages to retain its efficiency at taking only three to four days to report per gateway, things can only improve.

Just a bit of background on OGC: it was started on 1 April 2000 and wasn't a joke as it has saved on and shaped up a few public projects since then. Its apparent success certainly helped it in its bid to pull all high-risk and all IT projects under its wing. It is run by Peter Gershon, who initially called for its creation when he was COO at British Aerospace. It reckons it can shave £500 million of the cost of projects in the next three years. Any more info that you'd want can be found at its Web site here.

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