Freesteel Blog » The Fivefold Path to another IT debacle

The Fivefold Path to another IT debacle

Friday, January 18th, 2008 at 5:50 pm Written by:

I have reported before about the awesome debacleness of UK government computer projects,[1] but I never known why it had to be so bad. Now I’ve seen a clue in the response to an FOI request about the “future development path for Parliament’s Enterprise Architecture”.[2]

This document is one of the worse I’ve ever read. Everyone who’s seen it has had their brain scrambled. Here’s a sample

PICT Priority 2007 – Performance optimisation

Objective: to establish efficient and effective service management within PICT to identify and reach external benchmark standards of ICT service provision, and provide capacity and capability for sustainable ICT within Parliament This work will include:

  • the development of definitions of Requests for Change (RFC’s), and ITIL based processes relating to requests for change
  • working with Gartner to establish ITIL compliant process and practice in problem and incident management, developing benchmark performance targets and establishing activity to achieve these across PICT directorates.
  • the development and use of the ITIL Service Management Toolkit processes to monitor customer experience proactively
  • developing KPI dashboards as a management tool, and for monitoring performance targets across PICT directorates.
  • knowledge transfer across staff for more generic working (to include documentation management and configuration management)
  • developing a culture of matrix working (sharing responsibility for service levels across PICT directorates) and managing the interface between network, servers and applications
  • developing and implementing a 24×7 support service

And I’m wondering, ITIL?

Aparently it stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, for which the UK government claims the credit. The Wikipedia has been infested with cruft about it, but there is one very short quote at the bottom of the article:

ITIL manuals are like kryptonite to enthusiasm.

While Buddhism has its Five Precepts and Noble Eightfold Path, ITIL has its Five Core Texts:

  • Service Strategy
  • Service Design
  • Service Transition
  • Service Operation
  • Continual Service Improvement

When I saw this, I recalled something from that brain scrambling document. Chopping out everything but the headings, we get:

Our strategy is to develop and improve our capability in the core areas which we believe are necessary for us to deliver what Parliament expects. These core capabilities are summarised under Objective 5. At the same time we aim to make tangible improvements in our service within a broadly neutral cost framework. Performance measures and targets are included in the plan.

Objective 1: Improvement of Infrastructure and Desktop Environment
Objective 2: Architecture and Applications Delivery
Objective 3: Improving Members’ Services
Objective 4: Improving the Customer Experience
Objective 5: Improving PICT’s Use of Resources

Yes I know they don’t match up with the core texts, but there’s a sense of an echo. Each heading is divided into two parts called “Context” and “Aims”. For example, the “Aims” under Objective 4 are:

PICT Performance Optimisation Programme specific include aims:

  • Service Best Practice
  • Service Standards (ITIL based)
  • Service Knowledge
  • Service Performance
  • Service Response
  • Service Flexibility
  • Service Integration
  • Service Expansion

This development will be initiated in 2007-08 in a structured ‘PICT Performance Optimisation Programme’, consisting of focussed projects in each area. Each project will consist of key stakeholders, process owners and implementers, made up of PICT staff, and will be managed to agreed timeframes with high quality risk, communication and change management.

The PICT Strategy Board will approve proposals, changes and govern progress. Developments are planned to continue into 2008-09.

It’s important to read bits of this document out of context to appreciate the awesome futility of life that it represents. The words leave you with nothing; no questions, no comments, no arguments that you respond with. It’s a work of abstract poetry.

Here’s a couple more snippets:

independently of the organisational context, ICT moves on with new opportunities, new skills required, new ways of doing things better

people work best when they are well matched to the tasks in hand, neither uncomfortably overstretched, nor feeling under-challenged

What can one do now? One of the problems is that the writing and design of the UK government software is often contracted out on what is a basically cost plus basis. No one loses money. There is no incentive to produce anything that works. This ITIL system gives the appearance of progress all the way through to the end of the project when the big chicken finally lays an egg, and it turns out to be full of dust.

At the bottom of it all, these projects are supposed to produce software that works. When the government contracts a company to build a school, you expect to see some construction works on the ground at half-time. The visibility of it keeps the process somewhat honest. If the owner doesn’t know what’s going on, he can hire an independent experienced builder to tour round the site and check that it’s all up to scratch.

A good move would be for all Government IT projects to copy their code onto a public server, like it was a building site with peep-holes through the barricades. Then we could glance at it to see what was happening, and if any work was actually being done. The code, ultimately, is final the result of the project, once all the organizers, accountants, and designers have walked away. There’s no reason we shouldn’t see the work in progress.

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