Audit Scotland: Principles for a Digital Future

Due diligence best practices for digital transformation projects

Within their role of giving independent assurance to the people of Scotland that public money is spent properly, efficiently and effectively, Audit Scotland offer this report Principles for a Digital Future, that defines due diligence best practices for digital transformation projects.

In the featured video Gemma Diamond shares a presentation of the keynote points, emphasizing the insight that the same mistakes are made repeatedly and that they can be addressed by common sense practices, and as ever the digital skills gap is a huge challenge, especially so at the top:

“Senior level engagement may actually be the most important factor in ICT-enabled projects.”

Ensuring value for money

In the past five years, the Scottish public sector has spent around £4 billion on ICT, with over £856 million spent on procuring ICT in 2015/16 alone.

Setting the scene they describe:

“Digital technology offers huge potential for improving and transforming public services. Services are now designed to be digital:

  • organisations are moving from paper-based to digital processes
  • data is used and shared to help decision-making and service delivery
  • citizens’ expectations of digital services are increasing.

For this reason, the principles in this document are relevant to everyone working in public services, not just those working in ICT departments.”

Lessons Learned

Building on the NAO report Delivering successful IT-enabled business change they identify the common causes of failure of public sector ICT projects, pulling this together with the main findings from their series of recent reports on ICT project failures in Scotland and to offer recommendations to avoid them in the future.

Mostly these are common sense project management practices: to clearly identify the need and benefits, understand and appreciate the likely complexity, identify people with the right skills and experience, and break the project down into manageable steps, and critically:

Put users at the heart of the project

The examples of previous failures include:

  • Universal Credit – An under investment in policy design and planning, a lack of dialogue between policy designers and the people who implement them, leading to unrealistic predictions about how people will behave > Digital and policy specialists need to work together, not in relay. The project was also hampered by a lack of senior leadership.
  • i6 Police Scotland – A failed core assumption that the i6 system could be based on the suppliers existing system, underestimating the complexity of such an assumption.
  • CAP Futures – Similarly the Common Agricultural Policy Futures identified that the programme underestimated the complexity of the policy.
  • NHS24 – Not enough done to involve users at the planning and testing stages, incorrect design assumptions meant problems integrating new and existing systems, and poor training meant operational staff lacked confidence with adopting the new system

Agile Business Transformation

Agile software development offers a key skill set to combat these issues, through breaking complexity down into small manageable chunks, but as Audit Scotland point out this is only one dimension of successful delivery – Overall public sector agencies need teams capable of Agile Business Transformation, which also includes:

  • Programme and project management and senior leadership
  • Negotiating and managing contracts
  • Capturing user experience
  • Business analysis

Quoting from the Australian report Common Causes for Failure in Major ICT-enabled Programs and Projects, they describe that:

Public servants typically don’t have enough commercial experience and consequently they often fail when it comes to probity and contract management. Get people with the right skills and experience to manage commercial relationships.

Best practices case study: Registers of Scotland

Providing a best practice example of how to address this requirement they cite Registers of Scotland, who have sourced expert Agile developers from CodeClan, documented in detail in this article:

Agile Digital Transformation exemplar case study – Registers of Scotland

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