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Pots and Black Kettles

You may recall how Computer Weekly reported how, Government had warned the IT industry that "lies" and "exorbitant and unsubstantiated claims" by suppliers are jeopardising the future of public-private partnerships,

It was Peter Gershon, Chief Executive of the Office of Government Commerce, who told vendors to "get their act together" and recognise the need to deliver success and value for money, adding "There is little evidence that the IT industry has an understanding of what is needed to make these partnerships work,"

“Every day”, complained Mr Gershon, "I'm faced by suppliers who make exorbitant and unsubstantiated claims” and he was joined by the e-Envoy Andrew Pinder, who argued , "some projects have failed because suppliers have lied about their capability and promised things they cannot deliver”.

Andrew Pinder

Government appears then, to be suggesting that the IT industry is selling ‘snake oil’ and that when large public sector projects fail or run wildly over budget, which of course 50% of them do, any blame should lie squarely at the feet of IT and not with a long tradition of failure among senior management in many central government departments.

When one mixes the unprincipled and the allegedly incompetent, then the results are not totally unexpected. However, it is not just suppliers who have “promised things they cannot deliver”.

I have pulled out four Government headlines from the last month and I will let you judge whether these are in any way fanciful or exaggerated?

- This Government will meet its target to have all public services online by 2005
- The NHS is a perfect example of how the government is modernising public services and using new technology to find challenging new solutions to meet the needs of the British public
- The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) is looking to reduce the intake of asylum seekers via facial recognition systems.
- Whitehall will soon be able to secure online communications and transactions between government agencies

All four involve IT but does anyone really believe that these statements are true? Perhaps the last one, involving secure communications, might be, if only because ‘soon’ can mean anything.

The reality is that Government is depending on IT to deliver the reforms that the public sector so badly needs but the problem, is that Government is as guilty of exaggeration as any of its technology partners. Government has mandated that a number of steps will have been completed by 2005 but it can’t be sure that the technology it is buying into will guarantee the success it requires for political purposes. As a result, everyone starts making ‘promises’ and these targets become ‘aspirational’, while you and I sit there wondering how anyone in Government can keep a straight face when accusing others of making “exorbitant and unsubstantiated claims”.

Surely, it’s what Government in this country does best?

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