WGPlus (Archive)

Editorial Commentary by Simon Wane (Senior Editor)
Put aside speculation on Transition costs; Use ‘hindsight’ to foresee the ‘real’ issues

Most comments (from all sources) seem to be concentrating on speculating what costs a newly independent Scotland will incur, but in reality that is only a minor issue, as the main ‘problems’ it will face have been well documented in reports (many from the National Audit Office) over the decades.

Professor Dunleavy hints at this in the report on pages 9 – 10: By 2016 Scotland will have policy control of some of the biggest issues, but even in defence its capability will only just be beginning, and no complete separation from UK systems is envisaged.

Even in important areas like defence planning, back office and procurement, and some taxes, it will take a considerable time for Scotland to build up its own systems.  And in some technical areas, that matter a lot less for Scottish policymaking, the transition will take more than seven years.  For instance, Figure 4 shows that the registering of vehicles and licensing of drivers carried out by DVLA and three other UK agencies will continue to be based in Swansea until at least 2021.

‘Hindsight’ has consistently shown us that 7 main factors impact on the successful delivery of new/revised governmental organisations & systems:

  • Organisations having a lack of the necessary ability, skills & resource to specify requirements, negotiate contracts, manage & deliver projects
  • Inability of Ministers to accept that one gets 80% of the benefit from 20% of the cost & effort (Pareto Principle) and thus ‘over-specify’ requirements and overcomplicate it for both Users & Clients
  • Lack of ability & training to overcome in-house opposition to change culture of the organisation
  • Deadlines imposed by political ‘desire’ usually having no relation to ability to deliver
  • Lack of senior management ‘ownership’ to drive the project(s) to a successful conclusion
  • Lack of independent monitoring to ensure remedial action is taken when necessary (& it will be!)
  • Lack of training for staff using system

The SNP should forget trying to ‘grab embassies’ and put in a bid for the UK’s Major Projects Authority, experienced staff from the NAO to bolster Audit Scotland and even perhaps try & ‘claim’ Margaret Hodge MP (Chair of the Public Accounts Committee) to lead on monitoring project progress and costs.

Returning to the Dunleavy report, ‘having policy control’ is one thing, making sure functional systems are in place to implement the SNP policies will be quite another!  While rUK and Scottish politicians may eventually agree to continue to share systems (deciding operational terms & costs may take many months), they are unlikely to be ‘fit for purpose’ to deliver new SNP policies, as they are designed to deliver rUK policies.

Indeed, the declared intention of the SNP is not to replicate the systems, but to redesign them for greater efficiency – a logical aim.  Having had personal experience as an IT project manager and then spent over a decade monitoring the UK government’s efforts to ‘politically specify’, design, contract for, manage & deliver improved / new systems, one can only say – Best of luck within your timescale!

The only things certain if it is a ‘Yes’ vote is that new system(s) delivery will:

  • cost far more than budgeted
  • take far longer than planned (Just look at the new DWP welfare benefits scheme)
  • not deliver everything specified, or even work properly
  • generate lots of blame to be allocated between Scottish Government, Civil Servants and Suppliers

One other thing, neither ‘side’ has yet mentioned how they will meet all the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 while ‘sharing’ these systems.

Finally, much has been made of the SNP’s red line policy of removing Trident within 5 years.  The natural counter to that for rUK, must be stopping co-operation and shared access to these computer systems in that event.

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