Why do Government IT projects fail?

December 17, 2020
Procurement

Why do Government IT projects consistently fail? Below are eight reasons why we keep getting this wrong.

1. We’ve bought into a tech utopia

Believe that technology is a solution to difficult problems, and we start to think about the edge case of possibilities and how it can be used to deliver a utopian future – blockchain anyone? But when we think like this, it means that the boring stuff, like upgrading all of the Windows machines in the NHS, gets ignored.

2. We forget the users

Once you buy into the tech utopia dream, you start to think about features, rather than delivering services. Once you become focussed on features buy expensive, complex products that appear to ‘cover all the bases’. When you do this, you get unusable software, angry users and failed projects.

3. What we’re doing is really, really hard.

Government needs to learn that just because something should be possible, it doesn’t mean that it is achievable, or that it will be a good thing for Government to make it happen. From the NHS backbone, to Universal Credit, creating technical solutions to cover every single outcome and every single need of every single citizen is almost impossibly hard. Sometimes we need to admit that something is out of reach.

4. Big projects are built to fail

Building new services using technology is really hard. Scaling a service to national levels is even harder. Scaling a service in the first iteration is virtually impossible. Look at all of the IT failures of the past few years and you’ll find the same pattern: a complex national project that was supposed to work ‘out of the box’.

National projects cost a lot, but more cost lowers our tolerance for failure. So, expensive projects are inherently more likely to go wrong.

5. We celebrate scale, not success

In a collective piece of post-rationalisation, we look back at failures with rose tinted glasses. We earnestly set up enquiries and make failures the subjects of reports “in order that lessons be learned” but much of this is ineffective. In truth, in many cases it is better for officials to be associated with large scale, but deniable failures than small scale successes.

6. We’re not allowed to have small failures

One of the most wonderful things about the internet is how easy it is to test a concept. It is possible to start in one small corner of the country, or with a small part of the process and test whether a design works before progressing.

That means accepting that something might not work from the outset, but politicians don’t like the nuance of “we tried it, it didn’t work”, they all want to be JFK sending people to the moon by willpower alone, instead we insist on grand successes.

7. We don’t spot the warning signs

If a service is going so complex that only one or two suppliers can deliver it, then stop now. Seriously, stop. If you’re buying something that so few people can bid for, then it is almost certain that you’re heading down a blind alley, where failure is going to be costly.

If you give a supplier a monopoly position, they are likely to exploit it. If you’re letting tenders with just one bid, then there’s a real risk that you’re giving a supplier a monopoly position, and so reletting the tender is going to become very, very expensive.

8. We don’t record outcomes

We don’t learn from our mistakes because we don’t record them. We don’t record when projects go over budget, we don’t record when suppliers perform badly, just as we don’t record when things go well.

In this case, the famous adage is certainly true, those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

February 28, 2021

Do Framework Agreements Have Value?

-Ian Makgill Framework agreements are like umbrella agreements, and are usually made with a group of providers to supply a set of...
February 28, 2021

NSW Aims To Reserve Procurement Budgets For SMEs

We're always pleased to see governments around the world improving their procurement processes, by broadening opportunities for all types of business to...
February 28, 2021

Creating Synergy Between Politics & Procurement.

The need for administrations to act at pace is often at odds with the processes and procedures needed for good procurement. If...
February 28, 2021

Canada Launches Green Procurement

We are always pleased to see governments taking steps towards better procurement practices. Recently, the Canadian Government took a step forward for...
February 28, 2021

Not All Data Is The Same: Rules For Data Integrity.

-Ian Mackill Not all data is the same. It might have come from the same source, but how it gets treated is...
February 4, 2021

Post Brexit Procurement – What Will Change?

With the Brexit transition period officially behind us, it's worth considering the potential impacts of Brexit on Government procurement into the future....
February 28, 2021

Where Next For Data Led Procurement in Europe? A Discussion.

The They Buy For You  Project (TBFY) concluded on 31 December 2020. To mark the occasion, we look back at three years...
February 28, 2021

Spending $400bn – A Demanding Task For Biden.

-Fiona Hunt As my colleague Ian wrote this week, governments are increasingly looking to procurement to deliver better social outcomes. President Biden...
January 31, 2021

Social Procurement Demands Data

-Ian Makgill Social value is going to be a critical feature of public procurement in the coming years. The urge to 'build...
January 31, 2021

Where Are All The Small Businesses?

While 2020 was an incredibly rocky road for many businesses globally, in public procurement it was SMEs in particular who lost out,...
January 31, 2021

Are UK, France and Germany Having a Competition Crisis?

We recently completed a study of European government procurement changes in the three years up to and including 2020, to assess the...
January 31, 2021

How Long Does It Take A Department To Publish A Contract Notice?

Public sector organisations have, according to guidance, thirty days to publish details of their contracts online. So, thirty days after a contract...
January 31, 2021

Controversial Food Box Contractors Face Scrutiny

There is increased scrutiny for the suppliers of food boxes provided to the chronically ill and those asked to shelter through the...
January 31, 2021

£550 Million Missile Contract Signed.

Yesterday defence Defence Minister Jeremy Quin announced a £550 million contract was awarded for new surge-attack missile The contract award promises 'hundreds...
January 31, 2021

Time To Build More Open Products For Government

-Ian Makgill, Founder Spend Network Just before Christmas, DXC (formerly Hewlett Packard) was awarded a contract for £430,000 by the Business Services...

Newsletter

Compelling research, insights and data directly into your inbox.

Recent media stories

Welp Magazine
December 23, 2020
FT PPE Story
The Financial Times
December 9, 2020

Search