They don’t know what they do!

The article started funny enough. The headline ‘Leaked universal credit memo shows jobcentre staff struggling with rollout’ gave me a clear indication that this is another one of these, let’s get into a world we do not understand (at http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/oct/27/universal-credit-leaked-memo-scheme-rollout).

I admit that my words here are presumptuous, but I have seen this before, to be honest many of us have seen this before. There was the NHS with 14 billion plus wasted and there were a few other projects, all gone down the drain. So, why can’t some people get their act together?

The first quote is likely the most offensive one, especially in my eyes: “The DWP had promised to have 1 million people on the scheme by April 2014 but, dogged by delays and tens of millions of pounds of IT write-downs and write-offs, the original timetable has been scrapped. Just 15,000 people are on the system“, you think what is wrong with this picture. Consider a $389 notebook, not a great piece of equipment, but I can install a variety of SQL products and have these filled with a database containing the population data of Poland in about an hour, so why do we see a system with only 15,000 records? (intentional trivialisation was used here)

When we get to the timeline (which by the way was not chronological), we see several issues. Let us take a look at them.

28th April 2013 – Trial begins for Universal credit (UC), which is covered in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 (at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/mar/31/liberal-conservative-coalition-conservatives)

Universal credit introduced.
The new in- and out-of-work credit, which integrates six of the main out-of-work benefits, will start to be implemented this April in one jobcentre in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester. The aim is to increase incentives to work for the unemployed and to encourage longer hours for those working part-time. It had been intended that four jobcentres would start the trial in April, but this has been delayed until July, and a national programme will start in September for new claimants. They will test the new sanctions regime and a new fortnightly job search trial, which aims to ensure all jobseeker’s allowance and unemployment claimants are automatically signed onto Job Match, an internet-based job-search mechanism. Suspicion remains that the software is not ready.

The issues are as follows:

  1. Will start to be implemented this April‘, this means that the system had been prototyped, this means that the software has been tested and that the interface has been tested by users, so that a nearly clean version goes online.
  2. The information ‘Suspicion remains that the software is not ready‘, should have been a very clear indication that the brakes had to be applied and at this point, investigations on the entire track should have commenced.

24th May 2013 The Major Projects Authority review expresses serious concerns about the department having no detailed “blueprint” and transition plan for UC (at http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/24/universal-credit-danger-failing-whitehall-review)

Universal credit in danger of failing, official Whitehall review says
The first official government admission that Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship plans to remake the welfare state has hit trouble emerged on Friday night when the Cabinet Office’s review of all major Whitehall projects branded the universal credit programme as having fallen into “amber-red” status, a category designating a project in danger of failing.

You think? How about, the issues shown after a month when there were already doubts we see an utter lack of commitment, there is no other way to describe it. When I see the quote “Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, hailed the publication: ‘Major projects need scrutiny and support if we are to succeed in the global race’“, which in my book comes across as ‘only silent scrutiny is allowed. This project is too big‘, which in my eyes is nothing less than a joke, one the taxpayer is paying for by the way. I must also clarify that this is how I initially read it, not how Francis Maude stated it, he seems to want accountability, so do I, it is just too convenient that many involved are not named at all.

In addition we see “An MPA rating of amber-red will anger the DWP, which has insisted that universal credit is on time and on budget” furthermore we see “Data has been exempted from only 21 projects in the review by the Major Projects Authority (MPA), where disclosure would damage commercial interests or national security“.

So now we get the following:

  1. Who at the DWP had made that statement? We want to see his name and his dismissal; I say again dismissal, not his resignation.
  2. Was the same person making the claims in regards to October 2013? This means that we were at that point faced with two delays on a pretty expensive endeavour. More important, until now, there has been a slacking handle on this project, which is likely to be only one of many.

Now we look at two events:

5th September 2013 A National Audit Office report reveals ministers have written off £34m on failed IT programmes and the launch may be delayed beyond 2017 (at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/05/david-cameron-24bn-universal-credit-problems), where we see ‘David Cameron’s £2.4bn universal credit project riddled with problems‘, so the entire UC is more than just a few pennies and we are not seeing any accountability, no criminal charges and no product. We can look at the quote, which is “The National Audit Office said universal credit, the £2.4bn project meant to consolidate six welfare payments into one, has been beset by ‘weak management, ineffective control and poor governance’“, I am about to call it something else entirely.

31st October 2013 The Guardian reveals ministers have been presented with a radical plan to restart UC and write off £119m of work over the past three years (at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/oct/31/universal)

Now we see the following additional quotes “Ministers attempting to put the troubled universal credit welfare reform programme back on track have been presented with a radical plan to restart the scheme and write off £119m of work over the past three years” and “The risk assessment warns that the plan to start again, the ‘design and build’ web-based scheme, is ‘unproven … at this scale’“. It says the plan to fix three years of work on universal credit is still “not achievable within the preferred timescales“, describing it as unrealistic”

These two give us the following:

  1. If we revisit “In March 2013 Duncan Smith told parliament that universal credit ‘is proceeding exactly in accordance with plans’“, then why on earth is Duncan Smith in any government building? If we look at statements from Margaret Hodge and the NAO, there is a clear indication that extreme sanitisation is needed at the DWP, the fact that this multi-billion pound fiasco is still around at that time should give cause to many serious questions.

Just to make sure the reader understands the gravity of this situation, the bungling and wasting of resources at that point could have given nearly every current university student a FREE University degree, which is saying a lot, in addition, those studying IT, might have completed the project for the price of their education, which is saying a lot!

  1. Writing off 119 million of work delivered. A failure is not work delivered, who was minding the stores, the contracts as well as the targets that had to be met? The fact that the amount in the database at present (15,000 people) could have been achieved with a $99 program called Microsoft Access, so can we have the 118,999,901 back please?

When we revisit the September quote “The DWP said the department would continue with the planned reform and was committed to delivering it on time by 2017 and within budget“, we can clearly see that either the DWP has no clue what it was doing, or we have another echelon of people and their ‘goals‘ messing things up.

Are my assumptions valid? Well, so far I did not waste billions, so I am inclined to say yes!

By the way, who did the original costing, who presented the plan and what remains of the initial plan? Because a blowout of these proportions should be regarded as clear evidence that the thought might have been nice, but none of the deciding parties had any clue on what was being decided on (my evidence here are the squandered billions as we see them melting away).

You see, in the old days, in my life, designing a database system was relatively simple. It took 5 weeks and a few iterations of tweaking to get the customer this container system. It worked like a charm! That is what is needed here. People have been overcomplicating things by massive portions.

  1. Web based solution.
    Really? With all the intrusions, phishing and other forms of malignant issues, you are going to a web based option? Let’s be clear, this system is all about letters and numbers, so an ASCII based system, which in the old days it was called a DOS program. In this situation a UNIX solution should be sought, but the overall idea is clear. In addition, UNIX is much safer, better protected and scripting allows for evolution when needed. I knew a guy once, who created a scripted solution for product distribution for a global Fortune 500 company, it was one of the few innovative software solutions that actually worked and worked when most systems had to be upgraded, it worked on a Pentium 1 with 90 MHz, a system we now buy for $49 (if even for that much), It conversed with several dozens of locations.

Now, today, when we look at the UC, something bigger is needed, but the systems of yesterday are already 2000 times stronger than the initial system it was designed on, so we can clearly see that the spending of a few billion require a deeper digging, as well as a serious interview by the members of the House of Commons towards the involved members of the DWP.

  1. more web-based system
    The risk assessment, dated 11th October, says the plan for a faster, more web-based system would involve writing off £119m of previous work, and cost the DWP £96m to develop. However, it warns ministers that they will have no idea if the web-based system will work until the summer of 2014 ‘when it is live for 100 claimants’

And the laughter just does not stop here, ‘more’ web based system? The people here did not learn the first time? If you want speed, consider simple ASCII, with perhaps local formatted XML. You see, you get loads of characters across in mere milliseconds (36 characters including 10 numbers tends to be fast), and let us not forget, this is all set towards 6 systems, so you need speed. So only this summer was there any chance of knowing anything, so can we wonder again where the money went, because someone is getting pretty rich here and it is not me (alas).

In these two issues we see a reiterated failure, which gives a clear signal that the original design, which would have been BEFORE money was spend, should not have passed any hurdles as I see it.

When I think ANY project I see the following

  1. request
  2. design
  3. prototype
  4. finalise
  5. test
  6. implement

Now, I will admit that a large project needs a lot more, but these 6 steps for the initial trial should have been done in 90 days for 7 tests. One test of each system and the 7th to see one person collected on all 6 systems. Now we have a master that gets us trials where this simple program could be used to star testing everywhere and see if data comes across, yes, this is nowhere near finished, but in the foundation we see what happens if the data of 150,000 people gets requested, so now we know that data can be obtained and we see a timeline of speed and more important bandwidth, because that will be the killer. If we revisit the original time line where the plan was offered in October 2010, which means that this test could have been done before Christmas, so how was time and money wasted, because as we see the Multi Billion pound bill that would be the direct question evolving from this.

The complications
Yes, I am not ignoring this. A system with this much data access will need all levels of security and encryption, there is no denying this, yet using a ‘web-based’ approach seems to me that we might as well give a copy of all this data to the cyber criminals. There are always suite options of security, and yes that needs work, yet some local test could have been made, in addition, a system this vast will need all kind of implementation servers and trained support staff, steps that were not even anywhere near implementing, were they costed for?

When we see the timeline and the involvement from ‘interested’ parties, I cannot stop but wonder what could have been if the right people had sat down, because those involved screwed the pooch big time and the taxpayer can see the billions they have to cough up for a system that never worked.

We will end with three quotes all from the October 27th 2014 article.

  1. leaked Whitehall documents warned of a failing IT system, more than £1m in wasted expenditure, and how only 25,000 claimants would likely to be served by the system by the general election next year.
  2. The government has written off or written down £130m on the project, which is designed to revolutionise the culture around claiming benefits. It now expects 100,000 people to be on the system by May 2015 and for 100 centres to be involved in its delivery by the end of this year.
  3. When fully rolled out, UC will make 3 million families better off by £177 a month and lift up to 300,000 children out of poverty.”

From the three points we get the following, if the system is turning nuts and bolts at present when there are between 25,000 and 100,000, what complications will we see when the other 2.95 million are added, if we see the issues with less than 4% populated, what happens when the other 96% is added?

When we see the quote in regards to a couple not getting paid, whilst in addition changing their details took three months, we can conclude form the quote “The DWP said the couple’s claim had been delayed because the pair had failed to complete the correct forms. Responding to Dispatches’ findings, a spokesman told the Guardian: ‘Universal credit’s IT system is robust and effective, and we have trained 26,300 work coaches who are successfully providing new support to claimants to help them better prepare for work’“, well if there are 26,300 work coaches and there are currently 25,000 in the system, why did it take three months to correct this? In addition, how come the wrong forms were filled in, what was the cause of that? Should the system not have reported (almost immediately) that the forms did not constitute their current social status/predicament?

This is more than a simple failing; this system seems to lack basic foundations, especially with three months delays.

The sad part is that this is not the first issue we see, when we consider the NHS debacle which I discussed in ‘the second exploitation‘ on August 10th, how the NHS options resulted in a wasted 15 billion, whilst no one seems to take a deeper look at how such large amounts get wasted. Now with the UC we see a similar development, it would be so nice for someone in Whitehall to recognise the need for actual change so that squandering might be minimised be a lot more then it currently is.

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