The widely held perception is that private sector organisations are more ruthless about accountability for botched projects than the private sector, as seen with MFI’s recent decision to sack two of its directors after a multi-million pound supply chain system ran into trouble.
We asked silicon.com’s CIO Jury user panel if they agreed with the assertion that private sector CIOs and IT bosses would lose their jobs if they were responsible for the kinds of failures seen in government IT.
Two-thirds of the jury (eight) said ‘yes’ a private sector CIO could expect to lose their job for that kind of failure with a third (four) saying ‘no’.
“Absolutely,” was the most common response and Richard Yeo, CTO at easyGroup, said: “Private sector CIOs would either leave before they were pushed or be pushed. Either way they wouldn�t be there within six months of the failure.”
David Lister, CIO at Reuters, said it comes with the territory: “Performance, accountability and consequence management go hand in hand with the remuneration and incentive packages that exist in the private world. Outstanding success brings exceptional rewards but the reverse also has to be true for failure.”
The scale of public sector projects was accepted as a mitigating factor by some IT bosses but Graham Yellowley, director of technology at Mitsubishi Securities International, said: “The number of public sector projects that go over budget and over time appear to be extravagant by comparison with the private sector.”
One public sector juror, Richard Steel, head of ICT at London Borough of Newham - who has also worked in a merchant bank - admitted that the government all too often launches into “over-ambitious projects that are ill thought-through” but said that private sector IT suppliers are often also to blame.
“The private sector are usually the ones selling these grandiose schemes to government, and it is they who happily contract to deliver against scanty specifications and an unclear vision, and they who usually end up being the ones who can walk away from the resulting mess.”
Those who disagreed cited the fact that IT failures in big private sector organisations are often not heard about as they are not open to the same level of public scrutiny as government projects.
Simon Norbury, head of ICT at Westminster City Council, said: “The point is that we would never hear of the failure in the first place - the private sector is fooling itself into pretending it does not have similar or even larger failures. In the public sector, we have to be far more open and wash our dirty linen in public. How many private sector managers would stand up to such scrutiny?”
Frank Coyle, IT director at John Menzies Distribution, said responsibility is often taken out of the hands of public sector IT bosses because of political pressure.
“Most of these public sector high profile failures were with outsourced projects. I suspect that the decision to outsource was as a result of political pressure and the IT director had little influence in that decision. The IT directors were probably left to manage the inevitable shambles of unrealistically high expectations of their superiors and false promises by the outsourced supplier,” he said.
This week’s CIO Jury was…
Frank Coyle, IT director, John Menzies Distribution
Kevin Fitzpatrick, CTO, Manpower
Bill Gibbons, CIO, Abbey
David Lister, CIO, Reuters
Kevin Lloyd, CTO, Barclays
David McKean, CIO, Cable & Wireless
Simon Norbury, head of ICT, Westminster City Council
Steve Ritchie, CIO, Investcorp
Richard Steel, head of ICT, London Borough of Newham
Angus Waugh, head of IT, National Audit Office
Richard Yeo, CTO, easyGroup
Graham Yellowley, director of technology, Mitsubishi Securities International
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