Monday, August 09, 2004

Fwd: Privatising public sector IT is the only hope???

The following letter did not get published, but several others covering more or less the same ground did:

Dear all,

I just sent this letter to Computer Weekly:

This is a forwarded messageFrom: Trevor E Hilder <Trevor.Hilder@AdaptBiz.net>To: Computer.Weekly@rbi.co.uk
Date: Friday, July 23, 2004, 11:33:17 AM
Subject: Privatising public sector IT is the only hope???
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For publication:

Dear Computer Weekly,

I read with interest Rene Cheront's letter in the 20th July edition.

I am amazed that anyone is naive enough to imagine that "public sector projects fail because they are public sector projects" and that privatisation will magically solve the problem by exposing these projects to "market forces".

He obviously hasn't noticed that many failed public sector projects are carried out with the involvement of private companies, such as Capita, EDS, IBM and BT. These companies are supposedly exposed to market forces, but they still manage to mess things up spectacularly.

I have personal knowledge of several private sector IT projects which have wasted millions of pounds, including one carried out by an insurance company which ended with the project manager being physically ejected from the building by security guards. This was covered up, and the project manager went on to write a book about how to successfully manage IT projects. His career was not in any way adversely affected by this fiasco.

ICT projects almost always fail because the social dimension has not been taken into account, not because of problems with the technology. Whether in the public sector or the private sector, if the people involved are not aligned with the project goals, they will cause the project to fail, either by conscious or unconscious behaviour. This applies both to the project staff and, most importantly, to the people whose working lives will be affected by the systems if they succeed.

There is a massive body of knowledge about how to successfully deal with these issues, most of which was worked out well over twenty years ago by the likes of Professor John Warfield in the USA, Professor Stafford Beer in the UK and their colleagues in the systems theory community worldwide.

The greatest mystery is that the tried and tested methods for solving these problems are so widely ignored. It appears that people prefer simple-minded, panacea thinking to the hard graft of getting down to dealing with the real issues.

- - --Regards,

Trevor

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