Should resignations follow IT failures in public sector?

It's often said that the public sector is picked on unfairly by the media and Parliament when it comes to IT-related project failures. The argument is that the private sector has IT disasters but they are generally unpublicised, whereas the...

Share

It's often said that the public sector is picked on unfairly by the media and Parliament when it comes to IT-related project failures.

The argument is that the private sector has IT disasters but they are generally unpublicised, whereas the public sector undergoes humiliation and public opprobrium when its IT-enabled projects and programmes fail. 

But there's a big difference between public and private sector IT failures: in the private sector senior executives are usually held accountable.

The latest example is that of Paul Bowtell, CFO at travel operator Tui Travel who has handed in his resignation after the company had to restate its 2009 financial results due to an IT error.

The error is said to have resulted from Tui using two separate IT systems after the merger of First Choice and Thomson, to form Tui Travel, in 2007. Bowtell will leave the company at the end of the year.

Peter Long, chief executive of Tui Travel, said: “It is now clear that at the time of merger there were weaknesses in the legacy systems we chose to use in the Tui UK business. Despite the fact that this situation had built up over a number of years, Paul is behaving honourably and I am disappointed that he will be leaving the group.

“I have specifically asked Paul to remain with the business to see through the full year audit and production of our preliminary results.”

**

Should resignations follow such serious IT failures in the public sector?

Many would say that individuals don't take responsibility for big projects in the public sector - but they do. Every high-risk IT-related project has a "senior resonsible owner". The National Programme for IT (NPfIT) has David Nicholson as its SRO. 

At the time the NPfIT began to fail conspicuously in 2009, Gordon Brown gave Nicholson a knighthood - which if nothing else ensures continued loyalty. Is this an indication of what accountability for failure means in the public sector?

After a major failure of IT systems in the Wessex health region in the 1990s the same thing happened: the most senior executive involved received a knighthood.

This probably doesn't send out the right signals.

Link:

TUI Travel CFO resigns after major accounts system fault - Computerworld UK