The Guardian is reporting that the United Kingdom government has flushed over ?2 billion (More than US$4 billion) since 2000 on failed IT projects. IT projects fail. It's a fact of life. It would be nice if the UK government weren't squandering so much with so few vendors, and if all the waste weren't locked up in proprietary software, and if it were mitigating its IT failure risk with open-source software.
Indeed, could there be a correlation to the UK government's fetish with Microsoft and seven other proprietary vendors? In other words, putting all of its IT eggs in just a few proprietary baskets doesn't seem to be working for the UK. Are the projects failing, in part, because the government is attempting to use proprietary, unwieldy software?
Or is it just a matter of incompetence? The Guardian writes:
The failure of the multimillion-pound police site marks the latest chapter in the government's litany of botched IT projects, with several costly schemes biting the dust. Blunders overseen by Downing Street have included the much-derided ?486m computer upgrade at the Child Support Agency (CSA), which collapsed and forced a ?1bn claims write-off, and an adult learning programme that was subjected to extensive fraud.
Top of the ministries for wasting public money is the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for squandering more than ?1.6bn by abandoning three major schemes -- a new benefit card which was based on outdated technology; the upgrade to the CSA's computer which could not handle 1.2m existing claims; and a ?140m streamlined benefit payment system that never worked properly.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The true scale of the waste is probably much higher:
The Guardian's survey of abandoned projects is not exhaustive and the total of ?1.865bn is likely to be a considerable underestimate of the actual cost to taxpayers because neither Whitehall nor the National Audit Office, parliament's financial watchdog, keep definitive lists of which schemes go wrong. Also it does not include the major modifications required to fix new systems that have failed to perform as required.
I'm not sure this is something that can be laid at the feet of proprietary software, much as I'd like to. I don't believe, however, that the software the UK government has been attempting to use can have helped. Most of the waste, it would seem, is related to the consulting costs spent to make the software work. But that comes back to the fundamental problem proprietary software has with interoperability and ease-of-development.
Here's something I heard from a large media customer of mine today:
The support you guys gave us was exemplary, and I know we had top management focus and attention all the way. We're excited about to have someone we can truly collaborate with from a technical perspective.
Imagine that. Enterprises that see the value in IT and understand that the way to unlock that value is through open-source collaboration, not proprietary software licenses. Savvy enterprises are looking for ways to collaborate with their vendors and open-source development communities.
And imagine if before the UK government went into these projects if it's cost of failure was hugely mitigated upfront by zero licensing costs and the chance to fully evaluate technology before adopting it.
It's called open source. Heard of it?