So, here we go again. The BBC today report that "IT giants are 'ripping off' Whitehall, say MPs". As I presumably work for one of those "IT giants" I will attempt to comment on this in as impartial a way as is possible.
- As long as we have 'IT projects' rather than 'business improvement' or 'business change' projects in government, or anywhere else come to that, we (and it is 'we' as tax payers) will continue to get 'ripped off'. Buying IT because it is 'sexy' is always going to end in tears. IT is a tool that may or may not fix a business problem. Unless you understand the true nature of that business problem throwing IT at it is doomed to failure. This is what software architects need to focus on. I'm coming to the conclusion that the best architects are actually technophobes rather than technophiles.
- It's not Whitehall that is being 'ripped off' here. It's you and me as tax payers (assuming you live in the UK and pay taxes to the UK government of course). Whether you work in IT or anywhere else this effects you.
- It's not only understanding the requirements that is important, it's also challenging those requirements as well as the business case that led to them in the first place. I suspect that many, many projects have been dreamt up as someones fantasy, nice to have system rather than having any real business value.
- Governments should be no different from anyone else when it comes to buying IT. If I'm in the market for a new laptop I usually spend a little time reading up on what other buyers think and generally make sure I'm not about to buy something that's not fit for purpose. One of the criticisms leveled at government in this report is the "lack of IT skills in government and over-reliance on contracting out". In other words there are not enough experienced architects who work in government that can challenge some of the assumptions and proposed solutions that come from vendors.
- Both vendors and government departments need to learn how to make agile work on large projects. We have enough experience now to know that multi-year, multi-person, multi-million pound projects that aim to deliver 'big-bang' fashion just do not work. Bringing a more agile approach to the table, delivering a little but more often so users can verify and feedback on what they are getting for their money is surely the way to go. This approach depends on more trust between client and supplier as well as better and more continuous engagement throughout the project's life.