Friday, September 10, 2004

Experience of NHS Direct

Dear Aidan,

The public sector appears to consist of a number of empires which vie with each other for power & influence.

In the good old days, the measure of success was the head count of people working for you. This has now gone out of fashion and been replaced by competition to see who can dole out the biggest budget. The question of whether the money achieves anything appears to be of little interest.

Somewhere in Computer Weekly recently, it was stated that there are currently 19 different projects going on to create a unified id for citizens. None of these appear to pay any attention to the others, or even notice that the others exist. One would have thought that the NAO or PAC might be interested in this, given the stupdenous amounts of money being wasted on these projects.

Back in the early 1970s, Stafford Beer pointed out that the only defence of the citizen's right to privacy was the incompetence of government bureaucrats. He wrote "Designing Freedom" to attack the issues, which are about who gets access to what, at all levels of the hierarchy. The lessons have clearly not been learned.

NAO and PAC ought to be interested in the following:

1) There is established knowledge of how to define requirements for IT systems in a manner which makes sense and at low cost and risk.

2) This knowledge is being disregarded by the incumbent IT suppliers and project managers.

3) The result of this is that vast sums of taxpayers' money are effectively being stolen, while the quality of public services fails to be improved.

4) If the public sector fails to get to grips with these issues, the waste of money will discredit the public sector to the point where the pressure to dismantle it and privatise services will be impossible to resist.

5) If the right approach was taken, services could be improved while the work force was relieved of the bureaucratic burden of increasing demands for accountability.

The above isn't exactly expressed diplomatically, but we ought to be able to present it more politely with plenty of supporting evidence.



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