Cabinet Office breaks promise to track major IT projects

Despite pledge to publish regular performance data on IT projects worth over £1m, the Cabinet Office is not even collecting this data, Information Age finds

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Cabinet Office breaks promise to track major IT projects

The Cabinet Office is not collecting data about the performance of government IT projects worth over £1 million, despite having made a commitment to publish this information regularly as open data.

In February 2011, the Cabinet Office published performance data for all major IT projects up until July 2010 (just after the current government came into office) on open data portal data.gov.uk. At the time, it said that the data would be "updated regularly", but that "the specific form of future publications has not yet been determined”.

The Cabinet Office again committed to publishing this data regularly in its "business goals", listed on the Number 10 Transparency website. The goal to "begin regular publication of performance details of all ICT projects above £1m" is marked as having been completed.

However, a Freedom of Information Act request from Information Age has revealed that the Cabinet Office is not even collecting this data. In its response to the request [.pdf], the department revealed that it holds "no recorded information ... relating to the performance of ICT projects over £1m".

The response also reveals that there are no concrete plans in place to uphold its commitment to publish the data. "The Cabinet Office has not decided whether or not it will publish the performance data of government ICT projects worth over £1 million or not," it says.

The department does plan to reveal details of any savings that have been made by decommissioning IT projects since the current government came into power, the response reveals.

"This work cannot be completed until after the end of the financial year 2011-12," it says. "It is our intention to provide an update on the status of these projects at the start of the new financial year, although the exact arrangements for this are still to be agreed.
    
"The Cabinet Office is also working with departments to produce summaries of all spending controls, including the ICT projects that have been submitted for approval to the Cabinet Office.

"It is our intention to publish this data quarterly in future, alongside the Quarterly Data Summaries which includes some information on the costs for a standard desktop."

David Bicknell, co-founder of organisational change advisory Campaign4Change, said the revelation calls the Cabinet Office's ability to get large government IT projects under control into question.

"Information Age has raised some important points with this story which rightly questions not only the Cabinet Office's ability to measure progress or demonstrate value for money, but also, it would seem, its commitment to the task," Bicknell said. "From its responses to the FOI request, it is clear that the Cabinet Office needs to make a swift recision – and the right decision – on releasing an update to the performance data of government ICT projects worth over £1 million."

"Its focus on the responsibilities of the ICT Futures group also appears to raise some questions over just what the future role of the Major Projects Authority will be in terms of the oversight of ICT projects," he said.

The Cabinet Office declined repeated invititations to provide comment.

The department has been criticised for its inability to monitor large IT projects before. In a progress report on the government's IT strategy published in December 2011, the National Audit Office identified the Cabinet Office's "inability to measure progress or demonstrate value for money" as a high-level risk jeopardising the success of the strategy.

"The Cabinet Office needs to develop measures to show progress and the value for money achieved by implementing the strategy," it said. "The Cabinet Office needs to define a small number of business outcomes for the Strategy and the baseline against which they will be measured. With limited resources, the Cabinet Office needs sufficient management information to prioritise projects that show significant benefits, cutting areas that are delivering only marginal return."