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We are better than our reputation – the ICT strategy will make us even better!

30-05-2017 Column

It is complicated to operate and develop central government’s large ICT projects and systems. Fortunately, we are quite good at it. But we can do even better, and the ICT strategy will help us to improve. However, we also need suppliers of ICT to become better at delivering, and we need simpler legislation, rules, and regulations from our politicians.

Those who have followed the debate about central government’s large ICT projects and systems may well have got the impression that everything is in a mess. I cannot help feeling a little annoyed - because I know that reality, fortunately, is far more nuanced. Actually, we are among the best in the world at digitisation!  

This does not mean that we cannot become even better at running ICT projects in central government. Nor does it mean that we do not have a responsibility for being in control of how we spend our money and for proper maintenance of our systems. We must do better, and we are working on it every day. Generally speaking, we are right now working on a strategy for central government ICT. It is an important and not an easy job. The reason is that there are no magic solutions which, with the wave of a wand, will remove any risk of for example unsuccessful ICT projects. 

It is complicated and difficult to implement large projects. Just think of how often things go wrong in terms of schedule and budgets when we build houses and bridges. After all, we have done that for thousands of years. With the large public ICT projects we are often entering into unknown territory, and it is typically a matter of very complicated solutions that are to be produced. Therefore, things do not always work out as planned – exactly as is the case regarding ICT projects in private companies. And exactly as is the case in other countries where they grapple with the same problems. 
But we can do better, and the ICT strategy is to help us on that. In our work with the ICT strategy, we place a focus on several essential areas. Among other things, we need to produce a new and improved ICT project model for central government, and we need to accelerate the upgrading of key managers and staff in the ICT area. 

Right now, one of the most urgent problems is that we have some very old systems which for various reasons were never put out to tender or have not been for a long time. Some of them are central to Danish society and the budget review of central government ICT has shown that several systems are neither as operationally stable nor as safe as could be desired. 

We also need to improve skills in central government, and we must make it quite clear that ICT is a senior management responsibility and that it is necessary to spend time on it. Those days are gone when it was possible to disclaim responsibility for ICT by saying that others were in charge of that. 

Suppliers of ICT and politicians must also deliver

Right now we are busy collecting knowledge, wishes, and ideas from all those who will be affected by the government ICT strategy. We have already received much useful input – some of it you will find in this newsletter. 

However, it is not only us in central government who need to do better. If our large ICT projects are to prove successful without exceeding budgets or schedule, it also requires that the suppliers of ICT become better at delivering what they commit themselves to.  

It will also make life easier for both authorities and ICT suppliers if we get a helping hand from politicians. When we encounter difficulties, it is not always a matter of ICT but also the legislation with all its special rules and exceptions. It is not seldom that very detailed and poor legislation makes ICT solutions even more complicated. “Rejsekortet” (the national travel card) for example is a smart invention. The reason why some users, nevertheless, do not find Rejsekortet smart is that it was not possible to produce a uniform system of fares from the outset. In other words, there is a need for legislation, rules and regulations to be made more digitisation-ready. The Minister for Public Sector Innovation, Ms. Sophie Løhde, has launched this initiative in connection with the recently launched coherency reform programme - a major political initiative to make the Danish public sector and its service delivery more coherent from a citizens point of view.  

So with a little help from suppliers of ICT and politicians we will succeed. On 12 June 2017, we will have our next meeting of the ICT strategy working group where we are making good progress. We may not be able to meet all wishes, but I am sure that with the ICT strategy our position will be much stronger when we are to develop and drive large government ICT projects and systems in the time ahead.  

Best regards
Lars Frelle-Petersen