Sunday, 31 July 2011

IT at Barnet Council – What a disaster but who is to blame?

Updated Monday 8.00am

Firstly, thanks to Rog T at the Barnet Eye for sharing the response he received to an FOI request. Rog has already blogged about RATS eating through the cables at the datacentre and the problems with security of personal data. I am sure that he and other Barnet Bloggers will be adding much more commentary on this lamentable situation. For what it is worth here is my perspective.

As I read through one of the documents, the LBB Information Systems “Action Plan”, I became increasingly cross as a number of problems that I have raised and be fobbed off by the Council, turn out to be just as bad, if not worse, than I had suggested.

So let’s start with something relatively simple – the price of tablet computers. Last year I complained to the Audit Committee about the outrageous cost of tablet computers (around £1,600 a pop with all the accessories). My complaint was that whilst there may be a few people who really need such expensive and complex machines the vast majority need simple straightforward machines that cost a fraction of the price. I was also contacted at the time by a number of desk based staff at the Council who were complaining that their desktop machines were in fact obsolete and made their job much harder to do as a result. The Audit Committee dismissed my concerns and the conclusion was it is easier to specify one top end machine for everyone than to look at different options. So what does the “Action Plan” have to say about this?
“Tablets are very expensive and not used to their maximum potential”.
“1/3 of the organisation has a problem with the desktop equipment which is impacting on the delivery of council services. This percentage will increase unless action is taken”.

What did concern me further was the statement that, “increased desktop volumes will lead to an overcharge in any outsourcing arrangement”, which suggests that One Barnet Outsourcing is still at the forefront of senior management thinking, ahead of the day to day running of the council.

So let’s move on to something which identified as part of my review of the annual accounts and have specifically raised with both the council and with the auditors Grant Thornton. This relates to the council’s IT infrastructure provider 2e2.

The “Action Plan” says: “ The lack of an Infrastructure Manager has left the service with no direction and poor management of the 2e2 managed services contract. 2e2 contract was put in place to transfer the operational management and risk of core infrastructure to a private provider. 2e2 no longer feel responsible for this and have passed all risks back to the council, on the basis that all equipment has reached End Of Life (EOL).

Now to set this in some context, according to the Supplier Payments over £500, Barnet Council paid 2e2, £1,077,913.62 in 2010/11. In particular, Barnet renewed it contract with 2e2 for last year at a cost of £400,000 on an invoice that did not appear to have been checked or authorised, a point I drew to the attention of Grant Thornton. Concerned that this apparently unchecked invoice had just been pushed through I asked who had authorised this contract renewal. A swift response from the council showed that this contract renewal was approved by the Cabinet Resources Committee in November 2009.
This contract was originally let in 2005 and has been extended twice. What I want to know is why on earth did the Cabinet Resources Committee approve this contract renewal given the issues set out above – or maybe it’s because they just rubber stamp whatever is put in front of them?

UPDATE: I have now seen the elements that were redacted on the original report and they make my blood boil! Under risks, the report states "2e2 will pass all risk back onto the council and not deliver to their contractual arrangements." There you have it. When the private sector don't like the contractual arrangement they shift responsibility back to the council. This illustrates the lie that has been peddled for the last two years by the Council over One Barnet that the private sector will take all the risks - no they won't! What is even more shocking is the proposed action to address this problem. We can now see that the redacted element states, "Improve the relationship with 2e2 and look into terminating the 2e2 contract early and bringing services and staff, under TUPE, in‐house, if necessary."

So there we have it, at least you can depend on the in house team to sort out problems when the private sector give up. I have read the One Barnet outsourcing business cases and basically they are a series of assumptions and aspiration but they have no benchmarks or comparison about contract performance. I have questioned repeatedly why the council has refused point blank to allow an in house bid (other than legal services of course because the private sector weren't interested). Well now we have some benchmarks - when the private sector no longer like the contract they shift the risk back to the council. That is bad enough with the datacentre but just imagine the problems when the £1 billion of One Barnet contracts start going wrong.

So now let’s move on to an old favourite of mine, SAP and the contract with Logica. I blogged about this back in April. I also raised the issue of the costs of Logica back in February. So what does the “Action Plan” have to say on this?

"Two Team Managers supporting SAP and other business applications, creating confusion in the business and the team around who is responsible for what. Team have been working on SAP optimisation, but neither of the managers are clear on who is the Business Owner for SAP, the sponsor for SAP Optimisation or the Project Manager. No structured project documentation exists for this programme.”

It goes on to highlight the risks that: “Lack of ownership of the Logica contract; confusion in roles leads to poor service delivery and an in efficient use of resources.”

On the SAP optimisation project it also says, “ No business owner for SAP means our council’s core business application has no strategic direction. This will lead to the need for expensive on‐going consultancy advise (sic) and a lack of benefits being realised from the application. Without an identified Programme\Project Manager there is a lack of understanding in the requirements from IT on the project, which subsequently can lead to project failure.”

On a system that has so far cost between £22 and £23 million I find this an utterly shocking and unacceptable situation.

Now we move on to the infamous One Barnet where the “Action Plan” identifies that, “No one in the IS team believe they are the lead for the service specification in IT and as such, nothing has started. None of the Managers have the breadth of knowledge across the whole of IT to develop a specification and the sheer volume of calls in the team questions whether any capacity exists.” This creates the risk that: “Specification will be poor and not reflect the needs of the council. Timeframes will be compromised”. So much for the constant reassurance that everyone knows what they are doing on One Barnet outsourcing.

Frankly, when I re-read this report I still could not believe the utter mismanagement of the entire IT/IS system. Added to this the “lack of formal project management in IS”, “there are no corporate KPIs set or reported”, “there is no IT strategy” leaves me totally without confidence in the way this council is run.

In Barnet Council we appear to have a clutch of highly paid senior manager apparently dependent on external consultants to sort out this mess yet no one takes the blame and huge amounts of money appear to be being wasted.

Perhaps if a lot less senior management time was spent ‘strategising’ and coming up with untested concepts like One Barnet and actually focused on running the council efficiently we would not have to make these punitive cuts that are destroying this borough.

Every single Conservative councillor should be utterly ashamed at the problems we see laid bare in this report. This is an organisation completely out of control and failing to get to grips with the basics of running the council. Councillors, it is your job to keep the management in check and you have utterly failed.

1 comment:

  1. You've said it all, Mr R: we thought that the financial incompetence we revealed by the unpicking of the MetPro scandal was staggering, but it is now clear that Barnet Council is in a state of catastrophic disorganisation, exacerbated by a total failure of effective political leadership.