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UK gov spoiler for critical ID report?

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The Home Office has published the long-awaited results of its consultation with the IT industry over identity cards, on the eve of the publication of an independent report that is expected to criticise the government for failing to adequately consult industry and other stakeholders about its plans.

In the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report to be published overnight tonight, suppliers are expected to express a lack of confidence in the approach the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), the Home Office branch developing ID Cards, has taken in the early stages of the project.

Consultation with industry is said to have been lacking. And the project is bearing the hallmarks of other great failed government IT projects, in a lack of clarity about what system will system will be designed.

During the limited consultation already conducted, the IPS reported today, several suppliers wanted the IPS to clarify what sort of identity card it wanted.

“There was some evidence that respondents are not clear on how wider government ID schemes interact and support each other, particularly in terms of procurement,” said the report.

Part of the problem, as the Committee is expected to reveal tomorrow, has been that there are still doubts that biometric technology is up to the job that the IPS wants to put it to. The inadequacy of the IPO's attempts to generate evidence to support its plans may also come under fire, though the IPS has used its consultation with experts and academics as a defence of its approach.

Impending trials of biometric technology have caused suppliers to question the IPO's timetable for implementing ID cards. Some want it to be delayed. At the very least, they want to see the technology proven before they get embroiled in any procurement. Even then, they are worried that the skills shortages that have hindered other projects such as the NHS National Programme for IT, will impede ID.

The IPS said it would let flexible contracts that would allow it to develop unspecified elements of the ID cards system over time. Suppliers wanted an “incremental and scalable approach”, said the IPS and it agreed to update the market as further plans develop”.

But the Committee is expected to criticize this approach for going against received wisdom on how to run a successful IT project. Experts believe project requirements should be set in stone before procurement commences, and that stakeholders should be properly consulted.

The Child Support Agency fiasco was a recent example of a projects that ran into trouble because work commenced without a clear idea of what was being developed, while subsequent changes in specifications specifications confused matters further.

Yet the IPS maintains that it is taking a flexible, modular approach which suggests each stage will be completed before it moves onto the next. IT projects are also criticised for trying to bite off more than they can chew.

It expects this staged approach to incorporate the missing trials, provide evidence for unproven technology, deliver a project specification and choose a supplier to do the initial work.

As Joan Ryan, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Office, told the Science and Technology Committee hearing on ID cards in June: "The procurement phase is going to be absolutely crucial and trialling during that procurement phase in identifying for us where the issues are, if problems are going to have to be caught.

"It is because we are taking it in that incremental developmental way that we expect therefore to be able to deal with issues as they come up in that procurement," she added.®

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