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Lack of professionalism and the right skills among the UK's IT workers means that billions of pounds are wasted every year on new IT systems, according to a report by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Computer Society.

In a scathing assessment of the industry, the report, The Challenges of Complex IT Projects, claims that universities are failing to produce software engineers and managers with the necessary skills to commission and execute complex IT projects.

The report reckons that the UK public sector has spent an estimated £12.4bn on software in the last year, while the overall UK spend on IT is projected to be an eye-watering £22.6bn.

"We looked at a range of studies showing that only around 16 per cent of IT projects can be considered truly successful. Even conservative estimates put the cost of such failures into tens of billions of pounds across the EU," said Basil Butler, chairman of the working group that produced the report.

The most stinging criticism came from Professor John McDermid, Professor of Software Engineering at the University of York and a member of the working group that helped produce the report.

"It is time for the IT industry to recognise the engineering content of their work and to embrace the discipline and professionalism associated with traditional branches of engineering," says Professor McDermid.

"In fact, there is a powerful argument that registration should be mandatory for people working on high-consequence systems like safety-critical or banking software. We think the Office of Government Commerce should consider this."

He went on: "It is a cardinal mistake to select suppliers for a complex IT project on the basis of price alone, since it is very difficult for suppliers to accurately predict costs at the outset. If a customer is asking for something unrealistic or ultra-high risk, the supplier should tell the customer and encourage them to review the project.

"Projects are often poorly defined, codes of practice are frequently ignored and there is a woeful inability to learn from past experience.

"The role of systems architects is critical - their job is to translate a business vision into a technical blueprint. They often hold the keys to success in complex IT projects but they are in very short supply.

The UK could benefit enormously from exploring ways to identify and support people with these unique skills." ®

Related link

The report can found here (PDF)

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