Friday, November 26, 2004

Bigger is not better

Benefits system hit by IT chaos

Pension and benefit payments face disruption after what is being described as the biggest computer crash in government history left as many as 80,000 civil servants staring at blank screens and reverting to writing out giro cheques by hand in the latest blow to a hi-tech Whitehall revolution.

A week-long crisis in the giant Department for Work and Pensions created a backlog of unprocessed claims with up to 80% of the ministry's 100,000 desk machines disrupted or knocked out by a blunder during maintenance.

Engineers battling to fix the problem last night claimed 95% were functioning fully again as they prepared to reboot the entire network after offices closed to the public.

Alan Johnson, the work and pensions secretary, has ordered an internal inquiry into the role of Microsoft and the American contractors EDS, who run the ministry's network as part of a £2bn information technology deal.

The disruption is the latest in a line of government technology failures and follows last week's resignation of the head of the Child Support Agency, part of Mr Johnson's empire, after the disastrous introduction of an EDS system contributed to only one in eight parents receiving the correct amount.

How many of these disasters are we going to read about before we learn that you don’t need a big company to handle a big job? Small companies can often do a better job at a lower price.

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