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Using IT to save money: ground rules for success (PITCOM)

Publishing news published: Friday 3rd December 2010

“There is no such thing as an ICT project”, the leading policy adviser Professor Jim Norton told the November meeting of the Parliamentary IT Committee (PITCOM) in the House of Commons.

Instead, major public sector projects that involve installing IT systems are "all about business change", with the purpose of the ICT to enable and support more efficient working practices, Professor Norton said.

Some level of ICT investment would be needed in the years to come, despite the wider background of heavy cuts, he said. "The level of cuts currently being looked at in the public sector are not ones that can be achieved using the traditional Whitehall technique of decimation - they are more radical. But in achieving them I hope IT can be seen as a friend rather than an enemy."

It is well-known that in the past some major public sector IT projects have failed, so we need to look at running far fewer projects which are well-defined and properly resourced, Professor Norton said. "If they're too large they develop a life of their own, never come to an end, and never achieve much."

In any case, technology should only usually form about 20% of a business change project's budget, with the majority, 80%, set aside for 'people costs' such as communication and training, he said.

"It is annoying when big projects go wrong and people say it's the technology that failed, when if you've got no money for communicating the business change required, you've got no project. You have to communicate why change is required; how it will be achieved; the new skills required; and reward positive changes in behaviour through your pay systems. If you don't put the facts out there, everyone will happily develop 'facts' for themselves, and they will assume more force than your own facts."

There will always be some resistance to change, and that should be expected, he said: "If only 5-10% are opposing it, you're actually doing jolly well. But you need to seek out opposition and confront it head on: left to fester, it will eat away at the heart of the programme."

Headstar is the official writer of PITCOM meeting reports and PITCOM's research and is the committee's writing partner in producing the 'PITComms' series of technology briefings for Parliamentarians.

To download a more complete copy of this report and all PITCOM meeting reports and briefings free of charge, see the committee's website.

MPs and Peers founded PITCOM in 1981 to provide a bridge between Parliament and the IT industry.
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