Some heavy lifting is needed if staff are to be convinced that the programme is to succeed.And he doesn’t just mean NHS staff, but the doctors and others who have to be persuaded to sign up to using all of the new systems when, for the most part, they’re perfectly happy with the ones that they’ve got and are entirely unwilling to learn about any new systems. Whilst there are exceptions, most doctors don’t appear to be great embracers of technology. I think, looking from the outside, that Richard Granger has done well to get as far as he has – he has put hugely complicated deals in place in record time; implementation is progressing, although there are endless rumours of delays, penalty payments for suppliers and problems with scope between the national providers, the local integrators and, still lower down, the systems that remain in use. The battle to engage all the stakeholders in ID cards is not, sadly, one that can be definitively won. There will always be people who don’t want ID cards, for good and valid reasons – but there is, at least, a chance to build safeguards and controls into the programme that will address the key weaknesses and, mostly, make people feel engaged. ID cards aren’t something that can just emerge from within a £5 billion project – a project that appears to be a submarine of epic proportions. £5 billion could also easily turn into £10 billion by the time it’s done – notwithstanding the fact that so much work has to be done on technology to make it work. Michael Cross, writing in the Guardian on March 3rd, lamented (perhaps not for the first or last time) our tendency to fail in delivering large IT projects. He was looking ahead to the probably signing (at the time) of the MoD contract for the Defence Information Infrastructure (or DII). He notes
Only a handful of firms can take on these mega contracts and most are already over committed … EDS has spare capacity following the loss of its Inland Revenue business. Was there really a choice?That’s kind of true – there aren’t many that could take on a project of this size – but I’d also like to think that the decision didn’t end up as a coin flip on who had spare capacity versus who didn’t. I am sure that the other behemoth suppliers (CSC and BT) were mounting a credible bid based on a desire to win. And EDS I hope stayed in it to the end and won because they made the right commitments and delivered a proposal that was believable. Mike goes on
… the UK has the highest scrap rate of government IT projects among the 7 [countries in a survey] ... In the Netherlands, the top five IT suppliers have [only] 20% of the government market, as against 80% in the UK … and that EDS was unique in having 51% of the UK government market …QED? Perhaps not – at least not just because of suppliers – government has got to get its end together too; after all, suppliers attract the best and brightest people in specific fields such as delivery, integration and testing whereas government attracts the same in policy formulation. The gap between writing a policy and making it happen is enormous – and doing the former does nothing to increase the odds of the latter. Indeed, with the big 6 contract winners in the UK (Accenture, ACS, CSC, EDS, HP and IBM – according to the Econmist on March 5th) all being American, maybe it’s even a wonder how the curse of failure to deliver can be laid at the foot of the British at all. I note, with great interest, that staff from the US Navy worked with the MoD whilst they were negotiating with EDS to reduce the chances of the DII project failing through similar issues as affected them. Of course, projects often fail for whole new and creative reasons, so I hope someone is having a think about those too. Perhaps too, though, government is making it too hard for anyone else to get into the game, with onerous contracts (in the view of vendors), high or indeed unlimited liability requirements, get-out clauses and so on being part of the price of entry. One of the NAO’s list of 8 reasons why projects fail is that too often, a “big bang” project is attempted. ID cards seem to have the hallmarks of one of those – I don’t buy that phasing them in through passport renewals is a staged approach. The technology must work flawlessly, the readers must be widely deployed, government systems must all point to the ID number and data must be clean. And then there’s the issuance process – the gold standard approach to identity. But that’s for another day. ID cards will be a mixed deal for suppliers that choose to bid. Just being involved in the bid process will generate negative PR from the anti-campaigners. Wining will generate even more such PR – with possible consequences on other parts of their business. But delays, cost over-runs and failures will hurt far more should they occur – and certainly hurt other parts of the business and, at some point, the bottom line. If I was a vendor, I’d want to analyse those risks and cover them off through active stakeholder (and, very possibly, shareholder) engagement. As apparently Lockheed Martin concluded (noted in the Economist on March 12th) before pulling out of an NHS contract process, perhaps the tough new performance measures, the potential for angry headlines and the fines if delivery didn’t happen were too big a risk to take? For sure £5.5 billion is a lot of money to spend. It’s an awful lot more to spend in the hope that the ideas laid out in the requirements will turn out to be deliverable. It could be seen as a “man on the moon” project – one that will stimulate so much creativity and innovation that difficult problems will be solved through suppliers that harness their best ideas, with their smartest people and work together. And, just like that project, there are likely to be Apollo 1s and Apollo 13s along the way. Failure in a project like this must be built in – and very public failure at that. To try and get past such failures without a population that is bought into the dream and the vision may be just too challenging. People are going to have to want an ID card - just like I wanted an Oyster card to get around the tube and bus network because it was quicker, cheaper and simpler than using paper tickets. Getting to go to America may be enough motivation for some to give a biometric but it's hardly the only thing needed as a reason.