Public ICT systems suffer in general from a poor reputation. It is a problem – and, actually, they do not deserve it, says Adam Lebech, Director, DI Digital, Confederation of Danish Industries:
"We need to transform the public sector in new innovative ways. We are generally good at it and we have come a long way. Most projects are actually successfully completed but we can do better", adding:
"It is so easy to say that something is a failure. Even projects which are as a matter of fact successes can be presented as failures. It must be made clearer what has been successful and what has not."
Generally speaking, there is no difference between the public and private sectors in terms of their ability to develop and drive ICT projects. Both sectors do it in the same way to an increasing extent: with the assistance of external suppliers. One of the major differences is according to Adam Lebech that public authorities are not good enough at closing down projects in time.
"Public authorities must become better at closing down projects, and they must become better at managing and controlling the projects. There is a need for continued professionalisation. There are examples of projects that have been allowed to run for years and years, but which should have been closed down in time. To avoid criticism, projects are allowed to continue in the hope that they will turn out successful. In fact, public authorities should be thanked for stopping them", he says.
More competition please!
The most important thing is for central government to become better at exposing ICT projects to competition – this applies also to the operation of already existing solutions. In some places, public authorities are saddled with problems that go back to the old central and local government monopoly, says Adam Lebech.
"There are some large projects that have never been subject to a tendering procedure. They are old systems that are not documented and nobody can specify the requirements. But there are many millions of Danish kroner to be saved by inviting tenders for public contracts", adding:
"In the public sector there are many ICT solutions that are central to Danish society. It is actually a matter of concern that there are so many systems which are in poor shape. Half-hearted attempts are made to cope instead of doing it properly. There is a need for boosting investment in public sector digitisation."
Better skills in crucial areas
Lastly, Adam Lebech is of the opinion that it may be useful to look at skills. For central government, it is important to have the right skills to be able - not to develop - but to invite tenders for public contracts and to have a good collaboration with the ICT suppliers.
"An ICT project is a joint project and a joint responsibility. They carry risks by definition because they are projects for change. Therefore, it is not possible to remove risks but it is possible to manage risks", he says.
Public authorities should, therefore, place a sharp focus on successful completion of ICT projects, but not be too rigid with regard to the business case, finds Adam Lebech.
"From the start to the completion of a project, a great many things may happen. For NemID [the Danish eID/digital signature], smart phones for example appeared in the period in between. Therefore, it may prove expedient to be more flexible on requirements than is the case today."