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Saturday, June 20, 2020

The £11 million app that doesn't work

What is it about governments and ICT? The list of failures in this field of endeavour is endless and all boils down to ignorance and expectation. Essentially, Ministers and civil servants don't fully understand what they are being sold, and have unrealistic expectations of it.

The industry does not seek to dissuade them of their ambitions for the product on offer, but ensure that contracts are so complex that the penalties for failing to meet targets and deliver the goods can never be implemented. As a result projects overrun and he cost soars until somebody pulls the plug.

This may not be what happened with government's 'custom-made coronavirus contract-tracing app', but I am willing to bet that it was something similar. Nevertheless, as the Independent reports, the cost of the contracts awarded by government to develop this bespoke solution came to £11 million, or roughly eleven paint jobs on a Ministerial plane, before the health secretary decided that enough was enough.

The paper says that eleven firms were awarded contracts to develop the old version of the app – totalling £11,297,811, one company, Zuhlke Engineering, was awarded multiple contracts totalling more than £6.5m for helping to develop the technology. Despite this the app, designed by the health service’s tech arm, picked up just 4 per cent of contacts on users of Apple phones.

The app is viewed as playing a vital role in the contact tracing of Covid-19 across the country as the transmission rate of the virus declines, but the government has not yet provided a date for when the technology will be rolled out nationwide.

The Department of Health and Social Care also awarded more than £4.8 million to developer VMware and its subsidiary Pivotal in three contracts for work on the creation of the app, according to the Press Association. Other contracts were also given to firms involved in the security testing of the application, ranging in value from £67,000 to more than £162,000.

If it were not so serious, this farce would be laughable.
would also want to know who owned these companies. Tory donors? Or smart salesmen who know when they are on to a good thing. Or, in other words, make money even if we are exploiting a pandemic..
It also points out that we were supposed to have a 'world beater' (no mention of Apple etc). Then lately they say that they always had this 'in tandem' with the 'World beater'?? They find it hard to admit mistakes.
The other reason why government IT contracts go under is the marginal propensity to tinker. A spec is sorted and then someone (like a Minister) says 'Wouldn't it be a good idea if...' which then both sets the whole thing a fair time and adds to the cost.
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