Major projects special report: information and communications technology projects examined

Written by Sam Trendall on 21 September 2018 in Feature
Feature

In a special report looking at the Government Major Projects Portfolio, CSW brings you a snapshot of progress across four categories: infrastructure and construction, transformation and service delivery, information and communications technology, and military capability. This section looks at three schemes from across government to improve the use of technology in the delivery of key services

 

29 projects | £10bn whole life cost

7 Amber/Red | 14 Amber | 8 Amber/Green

Of the four categories featured in the IPA report, ICT has the fewest ongoing projects and by far the lowest total cost. A total of 29 programmes of work received a rating this year, with a cumulative worth of £10bn.

This is 10 fewer than the 39 projects – costing a collective £18.6bn – that were assessed in the IPA’s 2017 report. The current volume of projects and money is significantly lower than in the middle part of the decade; when the 2015 report was published, government was engaged in delivering 49 ICT programmes at a cost of £28bn.

In 2018, the ICT category can claim to be in the best overall health, with more than 75% of projects rated amber or better – comfortably higher than the other three sectors.

This year also marked the second year in succession that there have been no ICT projects given a red rating, a distinction it shares with the transformation and service delivery category.

Case studies

NHS e-Referral Service | Department of Health and Social Care | Whole life cost £131.2m

Rating Amber/Red

The goal of this project is to ensure all initial referrals from GPs for secondary-care outpatient appointments are made digitally.

The “paper switch-off” target by which 100% of initial referrals must be made using the e-Referrals Service (e-RS) is set for 1 October 2018. After this date, care providers will not receive payment for any appointments not booked using the platform.

Despite the project’s somewhat dicey rating in the IPA report, almost a month in advance of the deadline – on 6 September – NHS Digital announced that it had already made good on its core aim, with every NHS trust across England now booking all initial GP referrals for secondary-care appointments via e-RS. This includes 150 acute hospital trusts and more than 7,000 doctors’ surgeries.

The e-referrals project began in 2013, when the NHS first announced plans to internally build a replacement for the existing Choose and Book system that was run by outsourcer Atos.

The service was launched in 2015 and the goal has always been to drive utilisation rates for initial GP referrals to 100% by October 2018.

Progress has accelerated rapidly in the last year; the most recent weekly report, for the seven days to 26 August, showed the electronic system was used for 75% of all referrals – including initial referrals, but also those not mandated to use e-RS.

Just 12 months ago, the overall rate stood at 53% – roughly where it had been for a number of years, for both e-referrals and the Choose and Book system before it.

The growth of the last 12 months was helped by a scheme offering payments for clinical commissioning groups that passed 80% of first-time outpatient appointments being booked electronically, or those that lifted their usage rate by 20 percentage points within a year.

The first two trusts to achieve paper switch-off did so in September 2017.

The IPA moved the project from amber to amber/red in the last 12 months.

In data sets published alongside its 2018 report, the IPA said: “Concerns were raised by the review team about the ability to deliver paper-switch off by September 2018, despite the technical development of the programme being to schedule. It was recommended that the programme review the hard target of September 2018, in line with provider readiness and resource requirements for paper switch-off.”

Actions have been taken to address such concerns, including a research project “to investigate non-use of the system”.

IT Transformation Programme | National Crime Agency | Whole life cost £167.7m

Rating: Amber

The National Crime Agency’s work to transform its IT estate is one of several programmes that comprise a wider transformation portfolio. The overall programme – which is also covered in this year’s IPA report – has a whole-life cost of £304.3m. More than half of this is dedicated to the technology overhaul.

NCA chief information officer Gerry Cantwell told CSW that some of the IT transformation project’s key programmes of work include a wide-scale move to adopt cloud services and replace ageing legacy technology, “as well as overhauling our data and information-handling practices”.

This year was the IT project’s second as part of GMPP, and it retained the amber status it held 12 months ago. A review by the IPA’s assessors in September 2017 found “demonstrable progress had been made” against all of its previous recommendations.

Cantwell added: “The IT Transformation Programme has been reviewed several times by IPA-led review teams, each time bringing a wealth of experience that enable us to grow and develop our strategy moving forward. At the time of the review we feel that the Amber rating given to the programme was both accurate and fair, and we continue to take steps to address concerns raised by the IPA to improve this rating ahead of the next review.”

However, “delivery confidence for extant elements of the programme remains amber/red”, IPA data sets indicate.

Cantwell told CSW that this assessment had been based on “our ability to resource the ambitious programme of work that is needed to undertake to support transformation, and the approach that we were taking”.

He added: “Guided by the review team’s advice, the NCA has put in place an action plan to address those concerns and make improvements to our overall approach to delivery, as well as reviewing our resourcing model to ensure we can deliver in the expected timeframe.”

The IT transformation is not due to wrap up until summer 2022, so will remain in the GMPP roster for a few more years yet – although from next year it will be subsumed into wider transformation programme, which will be assessed by the IPA as single project.

Since the IPA report was published, the NCA has held “regular progress meetings with assessors”, in which progress has been assessed. The NCA has also internally implemented “a revised governance structure [that] includes weekly checkpoint meetings to track progress”.

Foxhound programme | Cabinet Office | Whole life cost £174.3m

Rating: Amber/Green

The Foxhound project was originally slated to wrap up in April 2014 – by which time the Cabinet Office was supposed to have implemented a single network through which departments could share Secret-classified information.

Foxhound was intended to replace a patchwork of different systems and, in doing so, create £308m of benefits over a 10-year period.

In 2014 the project was reset, and a new discovery phase was launched to redefine the business case and objectives. The new-look plan projected 10-year cost savings totalling £398m, set against a budget of £50m.

After being rated amber in each of the last two annual reports, the project improved to amber/green status this time around, which the IPA said is a reflection of “the substantial progress made by the programme over the last year”.

The network has now been rolled out to “full business case” departments, as well as “a number of new Brexit-driven partners”. Foxhound will ultimately be deployed across every central government organisation.

The scheduled project conclusion of March 2019 remains “an achievable target date”, according to IPA data sets.

“The overall risks around technology development timelines continues to reduce,” the authority added. “But challenges remain around enhanced rollout to multiple new partners to time.”

As a result of the network being implemented across more departments, costs for the 2017/18 year spiked 20% to a little over £33m. But departments themselves – not the Cabinet Office – bear the cost of finding the funds needed to deploy the necessary software licences and hardware.

The Cabinet Office declined to comment for this report but indicated that it is content with the amber/green rating and remains on track for the target completion date of March 2019.

The IPA said that, over the coming months, there will be “significant programme transition to the DfID (Department for International Development) organisation managing the service”.

In May of this year the Cabinet Office kicked off the recruitment process for a permanent government chief security officer, a key responsibility of which is to spearhead the delivery of Foxhound.

Alongside the Government Security Classifications system and the Public Services Network, Foxhound is one of a trio of major programmes of work being undertaken to help government manage and share information more effectively.

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Sam Trendall
About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister site PublicTechnology.net

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