Innovation and changeDigital TransformationWill the government ever consistently deliver successful IT projects?

Will the government ever consistently deliver successful IT projects?

Peter Ford, Director and Public Sector Industry Principal, EMEA at Pegasystems discusses the reasons for delays to government IT projects and outlines possible solutions

The Infrastructure Projects Authority produced its annual report into the progress of UK Government major projects in July 2018. The report reveals that seven government IT projects for the Home Office, NHS and other areas are rated amber/red, meaning their likelihood of success is in the balance.

So how can these potential failures be avoided?

The UK Government project portfolio is being impacted because of necessary preparations for Brexit. HMRC’s Chief Executive and First Permanent Secretary, has stated that some 13 major projects were having to be delayed in order to create the required capacity to develop a new system to manage imports and exports trading outside of the Customs Union.

But don’t we have problems with government project implementation even when we have business as normal? The simple answer is yes and here a some of the causes:

  • Limited funding envelopes and the demand for IT solutions exceeding the funding available
  • Scarcity of the right skills – not enough system integration and contract management as these functions were previously outsourced
  • The size of legacy technology and the considerable complexity associated with migration – the largest UK departments still have over 600 application solutions
  • Point solution imperatives, like changing tax regimes to fund investment in the National Health Service, conflicting with a long term IT strategy and clear enterprise architectural vision
  • Treasury funding focused on specific projects rather than the foundation blocks of enterprise technology solutions.
  • The dynamic nature of change in the public sector – political (most prevalent and almost unique to this sector), environmental, sociological (customer needs) and technical
  • Constraints imposed by cost of bespoke development, difficulty of creating specialisations with Commercial Off The Shelf Solutions (COTS), and aging legacy solutions of all varieties
  • The inability to reuse common software components in ‘lego brick’ fashion due to the underlying technologies used

So how can successful government IT projects delivery become the norm not the exception?

One much touted approach is the enterprise software platform that satisfies the needs of an organisation rather than individual users. There are three options: systems of record (e.g. ERP); development toolsets and unified enterprise platforms.

Out of these options, what governments outside of the UK are beginning to gravitate to is the unified enterprise platform on which they can build, implement and manage diverse ranges of applications. For example, the US State of Maine has created multiple licencing systems using the same core solution. The Swedish Unemployment department uses the same core platform to run 28 different unemployment funds, while Holland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs uses an enterprise platform to meet multiple needs across multiple government agencies reusing core common software components.

How these governments have embraced a unified enterprise platform successfully is in contrast to the UK government whose own government-as-a-platform is one of the projects ranked by the IPA as amber/red.

So what lessons about getting a unified enterprise platform right can be learnt?

Not all application platforms are built the same and one must consider the time to value and the ability to change as policy evolves. A platform that is model driven, is configurable with no need for coding can be implemented and changed quickly will help prevent a governmental customer loading all their requirements from the outset. Iterative, incremental change will become the norm.

By implementing a unified platform based on the same core engine, UK government can scale to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of customers at the same time. This approach uses artificial intelligence to convert information held in multiple silos as well as within the enterprise platform to deliver a predictive, proactive, service to citizens.

A unified platform can be easily localised, meeting the needs of multiple business units, channels, products, geographies, and customer segments. This reduces cost of implementation, ongoing change and support.

Engaging more citizens through more channels ensuring a consistent user experience across all channels—desktop, mobile, interactive voice response (IVR), social— means applications can be designed once and used anywhere with zero additional work required.

A unified platform should have pre-built integration capabilities to allow for it to be used across multiple systems that may hold existing information. It should provide a 360-degree view of the citizen, their family, and their history. Citizen-facing solutions, such as customer relationship management (CRM), should be connected to those in the back office that support processes such as tax or benefit calculations and lifestyle advice for health promotion. This will help prevent having “swivel chair” workers inefficiently pivoting between systems as they serve the customer.

Adoption of an agile approach to system delivery from waterfall can be a ‘change challenge’ but a unified platform that is built for change will help the transition. Taking on-board the challenges presented by huge legacy estates a wrap, renew, replace strategy can be adopted making use of the pre-built integration capabilities of a unified platform. Exploitation of investments in legacy can then be taken whilst reducing risk of a big bang approach to change.

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