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£10 billion ($16 billion) IT failure — yep, it’s the UK again

September 18, 2013 0 Comments

NHS-computer-007 (1)

It can be hard to imagine that you can spend billions of dollars (or, worse yet, pounds) on IT systems without having much to show for it, but, yes, it has happened again:

An abandoned NHS patient record system has so far cost the taxpayer nearly £10bn, with the final bill for what would have been the world’s largest civilian computer system likely to be several hundreds of millions of pounds higher, according a highly critical report from parliament’s public spending watchdog.

MPs on the public accounts committee said final costs are expected to increase beyond the existing £9.8bn because new regional IT systems for the NHS, introduced to replace the National Programme for IT, are also being poorly managed and are riven with their own contractual wrangles.

When the original plan was abandoned the total bill was expected to be £6.4bn.

Richard Bacon, a Conservative member of the committee, said the report was further evidence of a “systemic failure” in the government’s ability to draw up and manage large IT contracts. “This saga is one of the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos in the history of the public sector.”

Note that this project has been going on for eleven years, and yet apparently has never produced a working system good enough to go into production:

The project was launched in 2002 but was beset by changing specifications, technical challenges and disputes with suppliers which left it years behind schedule and over budget. In September 2011 ministers announced they would dismantle the National Programme but in an effort to salvage something from the failure said they would keep the component parts in place with separate management and accountability structures. . . .

However, 10 years on CSC has still not delivered the software and “not a single trust has a fully functioning Lorenzo care records system”. This failure, the report said, was “extraordinary”, while CSC was accused of a “failure to deliver” and “poor performance”.

There is a type of magical thinking that goes on in government circles with regards to IT — a sort of, “If we have good intentions, and it’s for a good purpose, then everything will all come together in the end.” Sadly, that is almost always a prescription for massive failure. I’ve seen that magical thinking in private industry as well, but it is much more uncommon there, because generally they aren’t spending other people’s money, and they can’t run (indefinitely) at a deficit.


About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

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