If central government ICT projects are to avoid running into major scandals, there is a need for more competent steering committees, and senior management must play a more proactive role. This is the opinion of Professor Pernille Kræmmergaard, whom we have asked to identify what she sees as the most important focal areas in a new ICT strategy.
"ICT projects are substantively different from other projects, and those who serve on ICT steering committees need greater skills. Furthermore, this is something senior management needs to prioritise as a task and needs to spend time on. Today, ICT projects are far too often something that comes on top of an already full diary", says Pernille Kræmmergaard, Professor at Department of Political Science, Aalborg University, and Director of Centre for IT management.
She welcomes the launch of an ICT strategy. In her opinion the focus should primarily be placed on an upgrading of those who are to be in charge of the ICT projects.
More and better invitations to tender for public contracts
Another problem, according to Pernille Kræmmergaard, is the insufficient number of invitations to tender for maintenance contracts. This applies in particular to some of the large and often old ICT systems that are very complex, and where central government does not have the necessary system documentation and therefore finds it difficult to invite tenders. A solution should be found to this problem.
"The operation of existing systems is very important and it is very expensive. We tend to talk about all the new projects but it is at least as important to maintain all that we have and to ensure that security is in place", she says.
In the future, invitations to tender for public sector ICT projects should be drawn up in close dialogue with suppliers of ICT, says Pernille Kræmmergaard.
"There is not sufficient dialogue with ICT suppliers at an early stage of the process. Today, it is important to be good at saying what is needed, and then the supplier will present a solution. Instead, public authorities ought to formulate the problem that needs to be solved and then find a solution together with the supplier. It is too late to have the dialogue after the contract has been concluded and the price fixed", she says, adding:
"If you have concluded the wrong contract, no amount of contract management can make up for it."
And a narrow focus on the economy does not make it any easier to be a project owner, according to Pernille Kræmmergaard:
"Public procurement rules are interpreted too restrictively and the price becomes decisive. When that is the case, a scandal may easily occur. If the price had been realistic from the outset, it would most likely not have ended in a scandal."
For even if the ICT suppliers have a responsibility for supplying what they present in their tenders, the responsibility will at the end of the day rest with central government. Therefore, according to Pernille Kræmmergaard, it is extremely important to be able to interpret the quality of tenders and that requires strong skills. If the focus is exclusively on the financial benefits, then that is what will be used as the yardstick of success.
"There is not sufficient focus on the qualitative benefits: on the time citizens save and the improved service they experience. It is a bit sad."