I was reminded recently of a tale from the archives. It is the story of the UK government’s National Programme for IT, which several years back sought to introduce an all-encompassing system for the NHS. As is the way of excessively large IT projects (governmental or otherwise) it was far too costly and did not achieve its goals. But what’s interesting is how this happened.
At the time, even more than now, large IT suppliers were seen as milking the government of cash while delivering little of value. The head of the project, Richard Granger, sought to change that. Computer Weekly explains:
Granger set out to reverse the historic perception that IT suppliers had Whitehall over a barrel when negotiating contracts, but hindsight shows that his combative style pushed the balance of risk too far the other way.
Life has a habit of throwing up events you don’t expect. In the case of NPfIT, a customer who thought the suppliers were locked in found that the lock was not so secure after all, and the tables were turned. By making the the project too onerous for the suppliers, too many left the programme, making it impossible to deliver. The Computer Weekly headline tells the moral of the story: Everybody lost. It goes on to say
Therein lies the only real lesson that can be taken from the whole humiliating history of NPfIT.
It’s become a cliché, but major projects have to be a genuine partnership.
And it’s not just true of major projects—or at least “major” is a relative term. If we depend on another party then it has to be worth the while of both sides, otherwise the disadvantaged one may discover a freedom that was previously considered impossible.