Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Why you can't [always?] believe what you read in the press

A much delayed Computing magazine arrived today, last week's edition. The bold headline screams out that Government is going to pay out over £16 billion to outsourcers (or oursourcers as it says in the online version), triple what's been spent since the election in 1997 and all in the next 2 years. I don't know the details of all of these deals and even if I did I wouldn't want to comment on them all - but that's the point. The flaws in the story are there without knowing the details. Computing gets to £16bn by taking a string of deals signed since 1997 and adding the Inland Revenue's upcoming £4bn, the MOD's £5bn, NHS' £2.3bn etc ... huh? Outsource deals are signed to cover many years. The Inland Revenue's existing deal was signed 10 years ago ... and the new one will doubtless last as long; I'm sure that NHS IT deals will be spread over several years - so the in-year spend is some fraction of the sum outstanding at any one time. So, the right comparison would be that from 1992 to 2002 "x" in deals was signed, versus a forecast of "y" from 2002 to 2012. Would that be triple? Quite possibly - more deals for more things with more to manage. You'd expect an IT budget between 1992 and 2002 to change, just as much as you'd expect it to change from 2002 to 2012. So, what's the story? The story is that the maths is wrong and there's no other story. Just weird. Front page news. No story. "Freddy Starr ate my hamster" would have been more interesting and more factual.

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