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ID cards - MPs warn of the coming debacle

Committee wants to postpone ID | The Register

The government has been advised to further postpone the introduction of ID Cards until it can be sure the scheme will work.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into the thinking behind ID Cards, published today, found the government had decided what it wanted to do before it had determined if it would even work.....
Government trials of the biometric technology it wants to use in ID Cards are planned to occur simultaneously with the procurement, which specifies the system, decides who will develop it, and how much it will cost. But the procurement process should be informed by evidence gathered from the trials.

To date, the committee found, the Home Office had been "unscientific" in its practice of selectively using evidence collected by previous trials to prove its own theories about biometric technology.

"We are surprised and concerned that the Home Office has already chosen the biometrics that it intends to use before finishing the process of gathering evidence," the committee report said.

It added that the Home Office should "act on evidence rather than preference".

The Home Office's consultation on ID Cards had also been inadequate. Industry was doubtful about what the Home Office was doing and sceptical that it had given it proper thought.
This lack of inhouse knowledge has been identified before as the cause of government IT failure, the Child Support Agency debacle being a case in point. As it happens, the committee was worried that the signs showed the Home Office had not taken enough notice of the accumulated wisdom of previous IT disasters, as surmised in numerous reports over the last decade.

It was also concerned that the committees set up to guide the ID IT plans had not been "best placed to offer expert advice" because they had few experts. The Home Office also lacked an IT chief, while there was uncertainty about who at the Home Office was in charge of the project.

The Home Office wanted a flexible, staggered approach because it was learning what to do as it went along. But until it fixes its plans, which the committee said should be done "as soon as possible", it will not be able to get the disparate parts of the ID scheme interoperating - i.e. working. ®

Another one to lay at Charles Clarke's door...


This has all the hallmarks of that bane of the IT world, the Deathmarch Project. Deathmarch projects are so called because they are literally dead on their feet; they're not going to work EVER, yet nobody wants to do the decent thing and give the project the bullet it has been begging for for so long.

This one is unusual in that it is obviously dead before it has even started; the only things driving this are knuckle-dragging stupidity on the part of the ministers who want it, and the greed of the IT consultants who want to sink their fangs into it and grow fat off the financial lifeblood of the project whilst it still lives.

The way to do big things like this is the bottom-up approach: get all the component parts working beforehand, and thoroughly test all of them, then assemble a working model, then scale it up a bit and all the while make sure the damn thing carries on functioning.

This is expensive, and it is really time-consuming. It also works very well, and the end result is usually good for a very long time.

The top-down approach is to work out what you need, work out what components you need then assemble them all, and sort bugs out of the thing as you go. This works on small scales, but inevitably on big things there are always several small yet critical items that ruin it.

Finally we have the Ministerial magical fuckwittery approach. Ministers have already decided that they want ID cards, but they don't know what for, nor how they'll help, nor if any of the bits are working yet, nor what the effect on criminals and society will be from the cards.

The latter approach is doomed to failure, but is the dream of all IT consultants (hence the current enthusiasm).

The reason is this: in the Moron Minister scenario, nobody knows how hard anything is, so you can pretty much name your own price for the job AND you can charge more every time the client changes their tiny mind about something (which since they don't know a bloody thing about what they're doing will be every five minutes), and since the project is pretty much doomed from the word go you can skimp on the staff side.

So, a team of the slickest consultants you ever did see gets sent to meet the client (specialists in short skirts with strong stomachs being used where John Prescott is involved) and the coding gets out-sourced to a crew of just-out-of-college Indians, who have sod-all experience of big IT and don't understand the project spec at all.

And off we go, deathmarch mode engaged.

Nothing will ever get delivered. No code will get beyond beta. All that'll happen is a lot of IT consultants will get very, very rich.

Better a colossal and expensive failiure than a success of course.

"The way to do big things like this is the bottom-up approach: get all the component parts working beforehand, and thoroughly test all of them, then assemble a working model, then scale it up a bit and all the while make sure the damn thing carries on functioning."

Don't give them ideas!

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