Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Government IT Failure

Yet another government database project ends in disaster. £161m spent on the project cannot be accounted for. A spokesman claims that "Steps have been taken to ensure that the mistakes made are not repeated.", but isn't that the same line trotted out every single time one of these projects goes tits-up?

What "steps" have been taken? What "lessons" have been learned? And why, if those aren't blatant lies, do things keep going wrong year in, year out? Why is a government so obsessed with databases so inept at their implementation?

The Technology in Business programme and the Government IT Profession were set up several years ago to address these issues, yet what have they achieved? The policy statements for the GITs include this gem:
Enabling organisations and individuals to develop the capability required to deliver excellence through advice and guidance on embedding professionalism and using the skills frameworks, and by creating and signposting learning and development opportunities.
That is gibberish. Complete and utter tosh. Semantically empty. They've produced at least four versions of the skills framework, all talking in generalities and buzzwords. Sound and fury. No doubt the authors of that claptrap would claim I'm "not thinking abstractly" and that classification, categorisation and meta-analysis are vitally important parts of the work. Bullshit.

Databases, despite the impression all this might give, are not all that difficult to engineer. There are around 85k prisoners in the UK. I have a database with more than 170k rows across a dozen tables, used for the back-end to some web services which I wrote in a weekend. That's running, acceptably fast, on a shared server costing me a few quid a month. I'm under no illusions and know that a proper setup - redundant infrastructure, dedicated and distributed hardware, security accreditation, crypto, development and testing of the applications - would cost considerably more, but a million times more? Several thousand pounds for each prisoner in the database?

I know I'm not cut out for the civil service: I actually value results - rather than process and paying lip-service to results. IT projects aren't made by consultants and reports and policies and skills frameworks; they're made by analysts and programmers and admins and engineers. Yes, these people need some direction, but direction in and of itself cannot produce the desired system - you cannot make a database by executive fiat!

- KoW

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