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Saturday, July 09, 2011

By, of, and for... the consultants

There were several Twitter conversations going on last week about UK public sector IT. Generally speaking, it's been pretty disastrous and billions of pounds have been completely wasted. Why? There are lots of theories, but mine is that the nature of the British establishment means that all technology-related policy is disastrous.

When the words "former management consultants" are invoked, watch out. There is very little idealism in these types, mainly on a gravy train and with a tendency to just re-formulate and re-play back what the people working for their customers tell them.

[From Charles Moore warns that the Downing Street machine isn't working | The Spectator]

As someone once said - but I can't find on Google - New Labour created a government by, of and for management consultants. It was inevitably going to wreck both the economy and society. How different things are in a successful operation.

Agarwal tells us that Apple is completely run by its engineers. "They don’t have a lot of product management," he says. "Most of the project teams are really small, and they’re all driven by the engineers." On top of that, Agarwal says that most managers are all engineers as well, "not product people or MBAs." That means that the people overseeing projects understand the technology, what's necessary for a project, and can really relate to their team.

[From 8 Management Lessons I Learned Working At Apple]

This so very different a culture to public sector organisations in the UK, where being an engineer, or having any understanding of a technical topic at all, is see as a positive disadvantage. This is all rooted in Britain's pernicious class structure. When you go into a meeting with senior civil servant about some important and expensive IT project, he or she will almost certainly begin the conversation by telling you that, of course, they don't understand the technology. Which is true, they don't. But that's not what they are really telling you, which is that you are "trade" - you are a member of the grubby commercial class, and scarcely fit to be in their presence. From then on, your comments about the feasibility or otherwise of the proposed scheme/system/standard can be simply discounted before the project is handed over to one of the large management consultancies to run for a few years before it gets cancelled. And the civil servant you are talking to doesn't care in the slightest.

MP Richard Bacon suggested yesterday that the only accountability for the failure of the project was Sir Robert Kerslake's having an uncomfortable two hours before the Public Accounts Committee. As for his officials, the only accountability for the waste of £469m was to sit in seats behind him, periodically passing him notes.

[From £469m waste on Firecontrol vindicates setting up of Cabinet Office's Major Projects Authority - The Tony Collins Blog]

Half-a-billion quid down the train, and no-one so much as struck off of the Departmental Winter Festival card list.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

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