Top 10 public sector IT stories of 2013

By Graeme Burton
11 Dec 2013 View Comments
New DWP office

Public sector IT is the news gift that keeps on giving - day after day, year after year - with unfailing reliability.

On the one hand, the upper civil service and management tiers in local government and quangos have never quite seemed to have managed to get their heads round these new-fangled computers. On the other, such ignorance is a dream come true for avaricious IT hardware, software and services vendors who can positively sniff out those who were born yesterday - and advise and charge accordingly.

In the middle, meanwhile, are the IT departments. These are the people whose task it is to make sure public-sector IT works, while politicians and civil servants chop and change the specifications, or impose impossible deadlines for near-impossible IT projects. The work of many in public-sector IT is invariably a daily double-face-palm job.

When the coalition was elected in 2010, one of its remits was to end the waste of IT projects - before embarking on one that even the previous government blanched at: Universal Credit.

"I was advised then that it was technically very difficult, if not impossible, to implement at anything like an acceptable cost, and whatever the cost I was quoted it was likely to end up costing an awful lot more," former work and pensions secretary Alistair Darling told a House of Commons committee in September.

The same advice was no doubt conveyed to the current work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who is rapidly finding out that it requires more than just chippy optimism and weekly press releases to drive a major IT project. The trouble is, Universal Credit is required by the government in order for it to impose its benefits cap. Without it, the policy will require the kind of bureaucracy that will end up costing out of all proportion to the savings generated.

For journalists, though, the DWP and Universal Credit has been superb value and fully deserving of their top spots in Computing's Top 10 Public Sector IT Stories of 2013.

10. Scottish Health Board meltdown due to Active Directory corruption

More than 700 patients had their operations cancelled in October due to an IT meltdown at Scotland's biggest hospital board, which left doctors and nurses unable to access patient records. According to the subsequent investigation, this was due to a "rare corruption" to Microsoft Active Directory, which governs access to health records at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

According to security expert Graham Cluley, there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the problem. Cluley described it as a case of "sh*t happens".

9. National Crime Agency to hire 400 trainee cyber intelligence officers

Given how central computers have become to modern life, it's surprising that the "old bill" seem so backward when it comes to cyber crime. As so much of it is perpetrated from overseas jurisdictions - particularly in Russia and the CIS - it's perhaps understandable that the police are reticent to pursue it as energetically as they might if old ladies were being attacked for their pensions. But with so many crimes having a cyber dimension to them, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has now started hiring as many as 400 trainee "cyber intelligence officers" to make good its deficit in computer skills.

Even better, you don't necessarily need any qualifications to apply. The Agency said that it is looking for "ambition and aptitude" more than paper qualifications, so if you can demonstrate some home-grown skill and can pass the tests, a career in high-tech crime fighting could be yours for the taking. 

Next page: Serco boss quits in overcharging scandal, Vodafone CIO moves to HMRC and UK Border Forces' IT systems found to be "inadequate"...

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