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The Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland has published a damning report into the cancellation of a human resources and payroll system for the Northern Ireland civil service. The project cost £3.3m and after nine years never delivered a workable system.

The Department of Finance and Personnel signed a contract with McDonnell Douglas Information Systems in December 1991 to deliver an integrated payroll system by April 1993. This contract was finally cancelled in May 2001.

The report notes that nine different individuals held the chair of the Project Board which was supposed to monitor the project. The auditor general recommends that one individual should be Single Responsible Owner for such complex projects. It also criticises the Assistant Secretary Establishment Officer's Meeting, which had overall strategic control, for being too distant from the project.

Apart from the direct costs of the project it also cost the taxpayer £6.1m in savings promised by the new system but never delivered. These will continue because the Northern Ireland Civil Service was forced to renew the contract with its existing provider until 2006.

The Auditor General bemoans the lack of "an overarching strategy for the development of central IT systems". It criticises the Project Board for not spotting warning signs that MDIS was having problems implementing payroll software for other organisations. It also said there was a mismatch between the Civil Service requirements and MDIS's standard software package: "This amount of software tailoring substantially increased the risk of project failure."

The Report ends on an almost optimistic note: "Departments are now in the position of having a considerable amount of good practice guidance available to them in the management of large procurement projects. Complex IT projects can succeed and it is essential that NICS secures the efficiency gains which they can deliver. It is, however, important that such projects are properly planned, resourced and managed in line with the guidance now available."

The Auditor General's office acts independently to investigate government spending.More details available here

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