OK, that last one was an exaggeration but it’s only a matter of time before some over emotional harpy takes time off from bitching about Heather McCartney and being jealous of Victoria Beckham to claim that they’ve found some poor dying kiddie who can’t get life saving treatment on the NHS because of the overspend on the national IT scheme.
It will be a completely bogus comparison of course, but it’s the NHS. The holy cow. The elephant in the room of public sector overspending and incompetence that we are simply not allowed to mention. It’s the last untouchable. Tinkering around with the existing structures won’t make much difference, but it’s political suicide to suggest that the only way to reform the NHS is to rip it up and start again.
It’s like that old joke: “How do I get to X?” “Well I wouldn’t start from here!” Unfortunately we do need to start from here. Imagine a private sector firm with thousands of branches, each of which has been allowed to implement its own IT strategy for the past 30 years. What would you end up with? Well, probably a firm that went out of business many years ago – and in some respects that’s what we’ve got with the NHS, except of course it cannot be allowed to go out of business.
The unified IT strategy is a simple and very good idea that’s being badly implemented. It was inevitable that it would be. Its origins lie in the heady days of New Labour when Tony Blair had a mandate from the electorate to do whatever he wanted. What he chose was to embark on a series of ‘big ideas’, and they don’t come any bigger than what was then the National IT Programme for the NHS. It was health, it was hi-tech, it was pioneering – what could go wrong?
Well, an awful lot would have been the simple conclusion that would arise from the most cursory examination of previous, considerably less ambitious public sector projects. This would also have exposed the most basic failure of such projects – and something that sections of the private sector learnt long ago – which is that IT projects that don’t first address the non-technical underlying issues are doomed simply to automate those problems, not solve them.
I have never understood why the public sector cannot simply mandate change. By this time you may recall, all government spending was supposed to be carried out by e-procurement. The technology is there to do this, but it is not mandated. Instead craven politicians and government officials talk about buy-in and internal PR campaigns to encourage adoption. Surprise surprise, the pen pushers who pass around pieces of paper and slow down purchasing cycles don’t want to lose their paper chase and e-procurement takes a back seat.
Still never mind, it’s not proper money that’s been spent on it, only taxpayers’ cash. The NHS IT project is overly ambitious. It is inevitably behind schedule and over budget. It’s a typical example of what happens when political opportunism combines with IT to create the most almighty mess.
If the recent predictions that it will cost more to run the new systems than will be saved through their use prove to be true, who is really going to be surprised? Except those in charge of the project who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time at IT conferences telling audiences how clever they’ve been despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Bill Gate's decision to step down from day-to-day involvement in Microsoft has long been expected and is a fantastic example of how to pass the baton without scaring the shareholders. Inevitably the critics were out in force, wishing him ‘good riddance’. Gates inspires so much loathing and envy that this was inevitable.
But in a world where so many executives pay lip service to the cause of compassionate capitalism, Gates’s real legacy may turn out not to be Windows, but in the part he plays in defeating the scourges of starvation and disease in the third world.
The sorry saga of Onyx might finally be at an end. The ailing CRM firm was the subject of a hostile takeover bid by Chinese firm CDC as part of its attempt to make a move on the US market.
The Onyx board chose to plump for an alternative option of being taken over by a holding company and taken off the stock exchange into private ownership. The bids, counterbids and accusations have rumbled until finally CDC got fed up of the whole thing and pulled out.
So Onyx now heads private, which will please the board who stand a better chance of keeping their jobs this way, but the damage done to Onyx’s prospects during all this might mean that this proves to be a very mixed blessing.