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Public sector projects even more likely to fail than private ...
Public sector projects even more likely to fail than private

The poor success rate of IT projects demands that people leading significant developments should be chartered professionals and that university IT courses should put greater emphasis on engineering - so says a major new report from the British Computer Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The study by leading industrial and academic figures, chaired by the former managing director of BP, also calls on professional bodies and the UK Office of Government Commerce to assess ways of enforcing the registration and maintenance of the professional competence of senior IT specialists through continuing professional development.

Professional bodies should work with the CBI employers' body and the Institute of Directors to promote awareness of the benefits of employing chartered IT practitioners and suppliers that adopt the new code of best practice developed by Intellect, the UK trade body for the IT and electronics industries, with a significant BCS contribution.

The government and industry should establish a Software Engineering Institute to lead research and provide advice and training on best practice in software engineering and IT project management.

These and other recommendations are made because only 16% of IT projects can be considered truly successful - at a time when annual spending on IT in the UK alone is around£23bn, the study group says.

'It needs to recognised that IT projects have many of the characteristics of traditional engineering programmes,' says study group chairman Basil Butler. 'Many software and IT projects could benefit from employing the disciplines applied on other major projects.'

The study report points to 'the general absence of collective professionalism in the IT industry', 'inadequacies in the education and training of customer and supplier staff at all levels', and 'a broad reluctance to accept that complex IT projects have many similarities w ith major engineering projects and would benefit from greater application of well established engineering and project management procedures'.

Study group member John McDermid, professor of software engineering at York University and a former BCS vice president, says: 'Projects are often poorly defined, codes of practice are frequently ignored and there is a woeful inability to learn from past experience.'

He adds: 'The role of systems architects is critical: their job is to translate a business vision into a technical blueprint. They often hold the keys to success in complex IT projects, but they are in very short supply. The UK could benefit enormously from exploring ways to identify and support people with these unique skills.'

Other recommendations include collaboration between management schools, university computer science and engineering departments, and project management professional bodies to develop courses specifically on IT project management; the production by the Royal Academy of Engineering of guidelines on IT project risks; the establishment of a research programme on complex IT systems; and moves by the BCS and the Institution of Electrical Engineers to encourage a greater engineering emphasis in degree courses.

BCS president Wendy Hall welcomes the report, saying, 'The BCS firmly believes that increasing professionalism is key to improving success rates on projects - and it is fitting that this report should be issued at the same time as the BCS is launching its Chartered IT Practitioner scheme.'

The study group included former top directors of the likes of British Aerospace, Lucas Industries, Kvaerner, Nortel Networks and Racal Defence Systems.

The report is available here.

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