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.

 

Public audit in Scotland: What’s on the horizon?

We are living in incredibly busy times for the public sector in Scotland, with each passing week bringing a new political announcement or debate. With so much going on, it can be hard to think beyond the next few months.

I’ve often heard it said that audit is retrospective in nature, but in fact we spend a lot of time and energy looking ahead to understand what’s on the horizon, what it means for our future work, and what impact we want to have. And we need to make sure that our plans reflect the priorities and concerns of the public and our key stakeholders, whichever policy area we’re focused on.

Our new approach uses these principles to create a rolling five-year programme of audits, which we refresh each year. The results of our latest review are now available on our website, setting out in detail what areas of public spending and policy we plan to report on between now and 2021/22.

The programme covers all of the work that Audit Scotland will carry out over the next five years on behalf of me and my colleagues in the Accounts Commission, the local government watchdog. It’s based on consultation with a range of stakeholders; for example, as Auditor General I report to the Parliament’s Public Audit & Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee and we consulted with committee members to see how the audit risks we’d identified through our work matched what they want to see from public audit in the coming years.

As well as the audits of specific policy developments across the public sector, I’d like to highlight a couple of areas that will inevitably affect much of the public sector, and all of us who use public services in Scotland, in the long-term.

First off are the historic changes taking place in Scotland’s public finances, with new financial powers coming on stream through the Scotland Acts 2012 and 2016. We reported our latest update to MSPs last month and will continue to report on this annually. This commitment reflects the scale of the work that will be required of the Scottish Government and others to successfully implement and manage the new powers.

We’ll also continue to expand our high-profile work on Scotland’s NHS, with audits of the NHS workforce, children’s mental health services, and health and social care integration all in the pipeline.

And there’s lot more, right across the public sector, from ferry services and widening access, higher education to fire reform, digital to community justice. We’ll also continue to explore different ways of making our work accessible to everyone with an interest, building on the range of ways we already report our work.

If you’d like to know more, you can find out who to contact here.

About the author

MM6A8690croppedCaroline Gardner is the Auditor General, and Accountable Officer for Audit Scotland. She started her term in July 2012, and has more than 30 years’ experience in audit, governance and financial management. Follow her on twitter @AuditorGenScot

 

Playing our part in the changing landscape of Scotland’s public finances

There’s no doubt that this is a busy and exciting time for anyone with an interest in Scotland’s political and financial landscape. Generating a lot of discussion is the Scotland Bill 2015, set to grant further financial powers to the Scottish Parliament and establish a new fiscal framework which could substantially revise its budgetary and funding arrangements. All of this is taking place while new financial powers in the Scotland Act 2012 are being implemented.

A number of Scottish and UK parliamentary committees have taken an interest in the development of new financial powers. Audit Scotland also has key role to play in this fast changing area of public finances, and we’ve been one of many public bodies asked to give views to Parliament on this important area.

We set out initial views on the audit arrangements for any new financial powers in a submission to the Public Audit Committee in August 2015, and I gave evidence on behalf of Audit Scotland to the Finance Committee’s inquiry on the Scottish Fiscal Commission Bill. The Commission plays a vital scrutiny role by providing independent assessments of forecasts of tax revenues, and its remit is likely to grow with further financial devolution.

We’ve also looked closely at how implementation of the Scotland Act 2012 has been prepared for, and managed; we first reported on progress in December 2014, and we’ve recently published a follow-up to this work, available here.

Our latest update explained how Revenue Scotland – the body responsible for the administration of the newly devolved Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and the Scottish Landfill Tax – effectively managed risks to make sure they were delivered successfully from April last year. In short, a good news story, though there’s still a lot of work ahead.

We also reported that some arrangements to manage the powers in the Act (and potentially the Scotland Bill 2015) beyond this year are still being developed, which is reasonable. However, we’ve highlighted the need for the Scottish Government to be able to move quickly once key agreements are reached, so it can be in a position to manage the new powers well and deliver financial reporting that’s comprehensive, transparent, reliable and timely.

On Wednesday (27 January), I’ll join the Auditor General and colleagues to discuss our findings with MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee. The session will be broadcast live on Parliament TV.

MSPs will also hear from the Auditor General on other interesting new work which has seen Audit Scotland provide assurance to Parliament on an audit of the Scottish Rate of Income Tax (SRIT). We reviewed the National Audit Office’s first annual audit of HMRC’s implementation of the SRIT, which comes into force in April 2016. The Auditor General will report annually to the audit committee on the NAO’s work in this area, and it’s provided a great opportunity for us to work with another UK audit body.

Public audit provides assurance that public money is well managed. This is important for the public and decision-makers, and will become even more relevant as Scotland takes on further financial powers. For Audit Scotland, it means that the scope of our work will likely become more wide-ranging and diverse.

About the author

MarkTaylor Mark Taylor is an Assistant Director in Audit Scotland. He oversees a wide portfolio of central government audits, including the Scottish Government audit.

Thinking long-term about public finances

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service report coverSince the last Scottish Parliament election in 2011, there have been major changes to Scotland’s public sector landscape. Thirty-seven colleges have become twenty, the NHS and councils have begun integrating adult health and social care services, and national police and fire services have been established.
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