CIO group warned by MPs

MPs have warned the U.K. government’s CIO Council to clearly define their role and step up their game.

The powerful Commons public accounts committee urged that the CIO Council – made up of IT leaders from all major government departments – should “become a key influence in government IT” by acting more like the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, which issues quarterly public reports on the status of all major projects.

The call comes in the committee’s report, Delivering Successful IT-enabled Business Change, which also warns of weaknesses in the way public sector IT projects are managed and monitored.

It says the CIO Council “offers the potential to identify key risks to the delivery of programmes” and to drive up levels of practice and performance across government.

But the council’s role is “not yet clear,” the MPs said. The council should report regularly on the emerging risks around the government’s portfolio of IT-enabled programs and projects, provide authoritative advice, promote good practice and act to strengthen relationships with supplies, the report says.

Within government departments there was also “a lack of clarity” about the respective roles of CIOs and centres of excellence – and how these should support project owners. Clear management hierarchies and reporting structures were needed, the committee found.

The MPs also drew attention to the lack of liaison between the “senior responsible owners” in charge of each project and ministers. More than a fifth of the owners of mission-critical IT-enabled projects had not met with the relevant minister, while 28 per cent met ministers less than once a quarter.

“For these major high risk undertakings to succeed, ministers need to be briefed fully and candidly at least quarterly on risks, progress and cost escalations, including key findings from gateway reviews and mission critical reporting, and assessment of the performance of suppliers and contractors,” the report says.

Senior responsible officers were often inexperienced, with more than half in their first such role and nearly half spending less than 20 per cent of their time on these duties.

“Lack of relevant experience, combined with a regular turnover of post-holders, adds unnecessary risk to the management of IT-enabled change,” the report says.

The committee also noted that the gateway reviews – carried out by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) – were “not shared consistently across departments”, while in two-thirds of projects had not undergone a “gate 5” review to evaluate the benefits of the project within a year of the “gate 4” readiness for service review.

The OGC is currently locked in a legal battle over the gateway reviews after the Information Tribunal ordered the government body to make public reviews of the controversial ID cards scheme under the Freedom of Information Act. The OGC has filed a high court appeal against the ruling.

But the MPs also drew positive lessons from recent public sector IT-enabled projects, such as the Payment Modernization Programme and Pensions Credit schemes. Government departments must make “significant changes to their management practices” to ensure the success of these projects could be repeated elsewhere.

Committee chair Edward Leigh said: “Not all major government IT projects end up on the rocks: as the successful Payment Modernisation Programme and Pension Credit have shown. If more large IT projects are to be similarly successful, then departments will have to understand what was done to make things go right.”

But he added: “It’s certainly no good putting someone in charge of the program who lacks the experience and skills to get the best out of external contractors and stays in post only as long as it takes to get another civil service position. The appointment of the official in charge must be on the basis that he or she is committed to staying the course and that performance and reward are linked to agreed targets and milestones.”

Departmental boards must be “fully engaged” with IT-enabled programs, with “a crystal clear sense of what they want the outcome to be and how they are going to achieve it,” Leigh said.

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