What can we learn from public sector ICT projects?

Digital technology has become such a familiar feature in our everyday lives that it can be easy to miss until you stop and take a look around. We can order a takeaway, book a gym class, track our morning bus before we’ve even left the house or speak to friends and family on the other side of the globe; all at the click of a button.

So it’s no wonder that as a society, we increasingly expect our public bodies to use digital when delivering services, or that more and more organisations themselves are placing digital at the centre of their plans for future transformation of services.

However, designing and managing ICT programmes remains a challenge for public bodies. Over the past few years, we’ve reported on a number of ICT projects which have gone wrong or had issues. Last year, when we reported on the Scottish Government’s Common Agricultural Policy Futures programme, we said we’d pull together all the lessons learned from our previous reports, and look to other countries to see if they had any other insights to offer.

We’ve now completed that work and we found that the issues experienced by Scottish public sector bodies are no different to those experienced around the world, or indeed in the private sector.

Today we publish Principles for a digital future: Lessons learned from public sector ICT projects. This summary is intended to help public bodies deliver digital and ICT programmes by setting out five high level principles that should be considered as they plan and manage their projects.

Unlike the work we’ve reviewed, this is not a national performance audit report so we’ve adopted a different format for this publication – it’s digital, interactive and, perhaps most importantly, it’s short and easy to read.

The five principles we have set out are:

  • Comprehensive planning
  • Active governance
  • User engagement
  • Leadership
  • Strategic oversight and assurance

Within each of these, there are a number of areas to consider and these cannot be considered in isolation. All interact to help create the right environment for a successful project, and underpinning everything is having the right skills and experience on the project at the right time. We highlight this by using a handy skills icon at various points throughout the document. Of course, we know finding the right skills can be difficult, particularly in the public sector but past projects show that this is an essential ingredient of any successful ICT project.

We’ve packed the summary with helpful quotes and case studies from around the world to add some flavour and help explain the thinking behind our principles in more detail. We’ve also provided a handy list of articles, and links to useful websites we think will be helpful for people responsible for managing or overseeing ICT and digital programmes.

We will also be presenting our findings at various events in the coming months, including the Holyrood Connect Conference in June, so look out for my colleague Gemma Diamond there.

If you’d like to know more, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re keen to hear feedback on the briefing, and whether it’s been of help to anyone thinking about embarking on a new digital/ICT project.

About the author

Morag Campsie is an audit manager and has worked on a variety of financial and performance audits since joining Audit Scotland in 2007. Her recent work includes our report on Managing ICT Contracts in Central Government, and audits of the Scottish Government’s Common Agricultural Policy Futures Programme.

 

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