Thursday, November 5, 2009

A National Offender - The Same Old Lessons Have Not Been Learnt

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have released their report on the The National Offender Management Information System (C-NOMIS) project.

The C-NOMIS project, originally expected to be delivered in January 2008 for £234 million, was stopped in August 2007 because costs had trebled. Astonishingly, £161 million had been spent but the National Audit Office was unable to determine what the money had been spent on. The scope and benefits have since been reduced and the project is now expected to cost £513 million and be delivered in 2011.
"The way the C-NOMIS project was managed and monitored was completely unacceptable. It is deeply depressing that after numerous highly critical PAC reports on IT projects in recent years, the same mistakes have occurred once again. We question the purpose of our hard work if Whitehall accepts all our recommendations but still cannot ensure a minimum standard of competence. In this report we make further recommendations for how other organisations can avoid the mistakes made on C-NOMIS through identifying risks, monitoring progress properly and taking action to mitigate risks as they emerge."
The Chairman, Edward Leigh, who has reviewed other out of control projects, most notably the NHS Connecting for Health Programme (aka NPfIT), started the proceedings by expressing his exasperation:
"I have had all this before and I just do not know whether there is any point really carrying on frankly...Why did these problems re-occur, the same old lessons have not been learnt; over ambitious, weak project management and all the rest."
The problem was that it was seen as an IT project rather than as a programme of IT-enabled business change and it was badly managed. An analysis by the National Audit Office of the underlying causes of the costs increases and delay indicated that C-NOMIS suffered from seven of the eight common causes of project failure - four in full and three in part.
"In scales of comprehensiveness of incompetence it is largely unmatched."
The recommendations from the report are fundamental to successful delivery of IT-enabled business change:
  • Major projects should be reviewed by senior management with sufficient rigour and scepticism to ensure that proposals are well-focused, realistic and take full account of uncertainties. "As usual it is key managers and what key managers do that makes a really big difference."
  • Do not wait for blame to follow failure. Ensure proper performance management at all levels.
  • A plan showing how business change and new IT are to be integrated should be upfront in the Full Business Case for all major IT projects.
  • The organisation's capacity to manage major projects should be assessed and, where appropriate, strengthened.
  • Monitor projects closely using reporting systems that are fit for purpose, based on actual evidence of performance.
  • Take swift and robust action when reviews, such as OGC Gateway reviews, identify concerns or shortcomings in the management or progress of a project.
  • Use existing guidance to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
  • Negotiate contracts to ensure suppliers match expenditure against deliverables.
  • Record and validate benefits and financial savings.
"Clearly this project was handled badly, it achieved poor value for money, many of the causes of delays and cost overruns could have been avoided. I could make some grand eloquent statement about how we never expect to see this happen again in the Civil Service but I suspect I would be wasting my breath." - Edward Leigh

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