Ovum: Politics causing public-sector IT projects to fail

By Sooraj Shah
02 Jun 2012 View Comments
NHS doctor using a computer

Politicians' obsession with deadlines and their lack of understanding of the value and practicality of what can be achieved is causing public-sector IT projects to fail, according to Ovum analyst Joe Dignan.

Dignan was speaking after the NHS was, again, under scrutiny following its decision to scrap the NHS Direct service and replace it with the multi-million pound NHS 111 programme. This will see computer algorithms used to make assessments on patients.

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The Ovum analyst said that the main problem with the implementation of IT projects was the immaturity of a government focused on deadlines.

"It is the immaturity of the administration [the government]. Instead of understanding the value and practicality [of a project] it wants to achieve things quickly, as everything within this administration is deadline based," he said.

Dignan emphasised that this was not solely a problem for the NHS, but all government departments.

"All departments want to launch pilot projects and gain some appraisal of how they work. Given the dreadful experience of IT programmes in the past, they have to be extra careful," he said.

Private-sector investors had opted against the NHS 111 service, while the British Medical Association (BMA) voted against it.

In a statement, IT services company Capita, a long-term NHS contractor, said: "Clearly there are ways that the NHS Direct helpline could be improved and run more efficiently. However, the current tender process is not constructed in a manner that will result in cost-effective services that can flex to the dynamic needs of the public. In particular, it does not currently allow any online interaction."

Dignan said that without the support of organisations such as Capita and the BMA for the new programme, it had little chance of working. He believed that automated services would remove the personal approach many patients needed.

"If the industry itself is not bidding on the programme then you can be certain that it is not going to work. Automation is like an FAQ section, it does not have that personal approach that patients need," he said.

"What I would like the NHS to do is to fix NHS Direct. Why not properly invest in the older structure, learn lessons and make that better?" asked Dignan.

Earlier this week, the Financial Times reported that Andy Parker, joint chief operating officer at Capita, had said that the government should have looked to build on the existing NHS Direct service, instead of creating a new service.

"We believe it would have been a better option to transform the current service, particularly around an integrated digital solution, which would meet future demand and keep in line with government policy to encourage digital by default," he said.

Dignan said that the NHS 111 services would go against the government's idea of creating a holistic IT infrastructure.

"Why would it set up everything locally; local jobs for local people with local solutions in local areas? The whole point was to join up ICT across government, so why is it going into this fractured approach again?" he asked.

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