In Chapter 8 I briefly mentioned some computer project failures. It is worth expanding on what I wrote using an example that I am very familiar with. The previous Labour government mandated a computer system for social workers which kept records of their interaction with a child in need, their family and agencies such as the police. The system, known as the Integrated Children’s system (ICS), consisted of a series of processes that social workers had to carry out and a computer system to support this. There were, in fact, a number of computer systems that children’s departments could purchase.
There were major problems with ICS. The main one was that it chained children’s social workers to their desks for as much as 85% of their time and prevented them from visiting children and their families. There have been a number of articles dealing with ICS, here is one and here is another.
The developers implemented exactly what the government wanted, they cannot be blamed. However, the problem was that the customer (the previous Labour government) had a view of social work that was at variance with actual practice; effectively they regarded it as an industrial or commercial enterprise that could be codified.
I was asked to join a government review of children’s care (the Munro Review) concentrating on the IT aspects and the review came to the conclusion that much simplified systems were needed-this is now happening. The ICS project illustrated something that I think has gradually happened over the last twenty years: that problems with computer-based projects have morphed from technical ones based on the inadequate technologies to problems that arise from customer issues; for example an inadequate vision of what a system should do and how it should interact with its users. This is clear from the problems with the British National Health IT system which has recently been drastically scaled back. If you are interested in project failure, this article describes quite a few; most of them arise from the problem I describe in this paragraph: an inadequate view of the people who use a system.