More engagement, understanding and better management is needed, if the public sector is to successfully deliver new IT services, according to a new report by the National Audit Office.

The NAO’s ‘Delivering successful IT- enabled business change’ report identifies 24 successful public and private sector projects, including health service’s own NHS UK Transplant, which they say ‘demonstrate how success can be achieved.’

Of UK Transplant, the report says: “The National Transplant Database provides a fast and accurate matching system to enable organs to reach patients as soon as organs become available for transplant.”

UK Transplant Acting Communications Director Maxine Walter told E-Health Insider: “Everything UK Transplant does is designed to save lives and we are delighted that the National Audit Office recognises the importance of this database.

"The UK Transplant Database literally helps save thousands of lives every year and alongside the generosity and courage of donors and their families last year alone helped give nearly 2,800 people a second chance in life."

From the findings of these 24 successes, the NAO has identified three core principles which contribute to delivering successful IT programmes and projects:

• Ensuring senior level engagement: clear and engaged board leadership, keeping senior decision makers informed of progress and risks and, for example, not creating undue pressure by making premature and unrealistic announcements about delivery dates

• Acting as an “intelligent client”: understanding the business process the department is aiming to change, having the right programme management skills, training the staff and creating effective and equal relationships with suppliers

• Realising the benefits: selling the benefits to users, winning wider support for the change, and assessing whether the programme or project has achieved what it set out to do

In a statement the NAO said: “In the past, Government has not always shown itself to be an intelligent client, with poorly defined requirements and a lack of capacity to engage effectively with suppliers.”

The report suggests that in order to avoid ‘unsuccessful’ IT projects, the accounting officers or senior responsible owners should ask nine key questions, based on the three principles before their departments embark on major IT-enabled business changes.

“The issues raised by the questions are fundamental to successful delivery and, before undertaking contractual or other major commitments, departments should be able to demonstrate that they have put in place the capacity to successfully tackle the challenges posed,” the report says.

Conservative MP and Commons Public Accounts Committee member Richard Bacon said of the NAO report: “This timely report provides a yardstick against which public sector IT programmes can now be judged. Unfortunately, many of these questions do not appear to have been asked of the NHS computer upgrade programme. For example, the report emphasises the importance of selling the benefits of a new system to its users, but little has been done to win health professionals over to the National Programme.

He added: “Neither has the government ensured the technology is available to deliver its goals. In fact, a recent study by the government’s own contractors doubted the software the programme depends on could ever be made to work. I have asked Mrs Hewitt to put these questions to the officials running the National Programme and to let me know their answers”.


Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO said: “IT projects in the public sector have too often been associated with failure – this report provides an opportunity to change that. Learning from experience is not just a case of appreciating what went wrong, but also encompasses understanding what went right.

“Success can never be guaranteed, but it should not be an unfathomable mystery. The common threads among these IT programmes and projects are evidence that a favourable outcome is not a matter of luck, but is the result of sound judgement.”


Delivering successful IT-enabled business change