Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Ministry of Justice finds IT Offender for Probation Services

When I last wrote about IT fiascos I referred to the need for political ownership and effective use of gateway reviews.  But IT procurement just seems to keep on giving lessons, if not unwarranted public monies to the IT wizards in the midst of an Austerity Strategy.

The latest debacle is found in the Probation Service's new £250m IT system for the whole of England and Wales.
Like many Christmas tree lights the new system was switched on 10 days ago. But unlike my Christmas Tree lights (I hope I'm not being too hasty here) these lights didn't go on, well they did but collapsed at 10.30am on the first day of action, 12 December!

The ten year contract, like that of the NHS, was to provide access across the whole probation service - is there any evidence, whatsoever, that Gateway 2 questions have ever been answered satisfactorily, namely:
  • are there suppliers who can do it?
  • can we control risk?
The system can't cope with the 3,000 plus users so they've had to cap users at any one time to 1,250 and take it in shifts of two hours each.
  1. Probation staff couldn't access their emails - I assume that also meant a lack of access to sending customers electronic Christmas greetings;
  2. Couldn't type court reports;
  3. Couldn't download documents;
  4. There is the potential for court delays, perhaps offering criminals a little longer to steal public art.
IT strategy is a bit like procurement strategy.  While procurement has Kraljic's portfolio approach, IT has a similar applications portfolio approach of Strategic, High Potential, Support and Key Operational.  Now the Probation system seems to, at the very least, fit within Key Operational quadrant with CSFs of being:
  • robust, reliable, high quality systems which are technical efficient;
  • provide an solution to business risks resulting from system failures which lead to poor customer performance (e.g. messing up the whole probation service work).
So if an IT portfolio approach had been applied there would have been a high degree of risk management.  Even if that hadn't been applied, if the procurers should have identified this as strategic and recognised the need for a high degree of risk management.  What on earth has happened to risk management - are we just 'muddling through' or applying 'deliberate ignorance'? 

Lessons for the future:  Robust gateway reviews, political ownership, and robust risk management.

I wonder if Santa's little elves could help?  You may as well send answers on a postcard to the North Pole as I suspect we'll be revising lessons from IT procurement for some time!

Background reading:
Ford, R. (2011) 'Probation staff go back to pen and paper as creaking computer system fails to cope', The Times, 21 December, p.14.
Lambert, R. (1993) 'Implementing IS/IT Strategies', in J. Peppard (ed) IT Strategy for Business, Pitman Publishing

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