UK Welfare Project Boss Says He Didn't Use Open Source Because It 'Wasn't Available' Two Years Ago

from the how-do-some-people-get-into-power dept

The head of the UK's Department for Work and Pensions' welfare reform project, Universal Credit, was apparently explaining why the project was switching to open source technologies, when he was asked why they didn't do that originally, when the project launched two and a half years ago. His response? "such things weren’t available as they are today." While there may be more open source available today, you'd have to have tried really hard to avoid learning about what was available just two and a half years ago. Oh, and this new open source project comes after they had to write off £40.1 million worth of IT assets, covering some of the original infrastructure investment, which they say "was of good quality" but "didn't reflect the needs of the project anymore because the specifications had changed so much."

So, to get this straight: you have a government welfare project, spending tens of millions of pounds on a proprietary system that was built for a different purpose than what they needed, and it was so inflexible that they have to scrap the whole thing and now start all over again. At least they're using open source technology this time, but it really sounds like these guys are somewhat technologically clueless and got taken for a ride by some tech vendors who saw easy money the first time around. Hopefully they're not using the same guys for this open source project.


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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 7:46am

    Rule #1 as a software developer, starting over again is almost always a bad idea.

    You're likely to make most of the exact same mistakes all over again, and make plenty of new problems along the way.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 7:50am

    this is what happens when you put a person in charge of something concerning, mostly, people he thinks are beneath him, the snobby bastard! the money he has wasted could have kept some families in their homes or food in peoples bellies. all IDS is interested in is making out that people can LIVE on £53 a week! he leads by example when spending £15,000 on a garden wall at the back of the property where he lives, which is owned by his in-laws, and then taking as much as possible from those who had next to nothing to begin with! he is a perfect example of what the UK Tory politicians are like. cause all sorts of screw ups but blame anyone else they can, then help all their rich friends while kicking those who are already in the gutter!!

     

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  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 7:51am

    How does such trivia loom so large in your estimation?

    Compared to the Greenwald Omidyar piece, this is nothing.

    At risk of new people totally mistaking this for a site with relevant news, I'll put up vastly more interesting and important links:

    BFP Breaking News- Omidyar’s PayPal Corporation Said To Be Implicated in Withheld NSA Documents

    http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2013/12/11/bfp-breaking-news-omidyars-paypal-corporation-sa id-to-be-implicated-in-withheld-nsa-documents/

    Also, the Snowden "leak" is apparently being wound up just as if a psyop is being ended having served its purpose, and before goes TOO far. Score so far: NSA about a million points, and We The People didn't just fail to score, but LOST all those points.

    NSA officials consider Edward Snowden amnesty in return for documents

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/15/nsa-edward-snowden-amnesty-documents

     

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  4.  
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    Richard (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 7:52am

    "...somewhat technologically clueless..."

    Churchillian understatement is a high art-form. Bravo, sir - bravo!

     

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  5.  
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    PaulT (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 7:57am

    "While there may be more open source available today, you'd have to have tried really hard to avoid learning about what was available just two and a half years ago"

    I'd hazard the guess that it's amazing what someone can fail to know about if someone's paying them to use a particular supplier/system, or if they depend on people who are for their knowledge. Judging from a quick Google/Wiki search, his expertise seems to be in construction, not software, so he probably wasn't equipped with the right knowledge in any case.

    "“The current system for Universal Credit is a conventional system being developed on a waterfall approach."

    While a very messy way of stating this, wasn't the American healthcare.gov site also developed using waterfall? Perhaps it's time for people to stop using that for software projects on this scale...

    "When you look at digital [the enhanced system], it’s very different – it relies not on large amounts of tin, black boxes, but uses open source and mechanisms on the web to store and access data,” Shiplee told MPs."

    What a horrifically convoluted and inaccurate way of basically saying "we didn't think about virtualisation and we've now been told to use OpenStack" - or, perhaps, "I don't know what open source is".

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:05am

    Oh, and this new open source project comes after they had to write off £40.1 million worth of IT assets, covering some of the original infrastructure investment, which they say "was of good quality" but "didn't reflect the needs of the project anymore because the specifications had changed so much."

    Sounds like managers managing their way into a disaster. Being managers they have to control what is done in an active fashion, which usually results in confusing everybody else as top what is required.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:07am

    Re: How does such trivia loom so large in your estimation?

    You aren't the real blue. There are no lines.

     

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  8.  
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    pegr, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:11am

    Ya think?

    "got taken for a ride by some tech vendors who saw easy money the first time around"

    Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

     

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  9.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:23am

    Re: How does such trivia loom so large in your estimation?

    Just what criteria are you using to measure the points you're giving the NSA? How have they succeeded? Yes, we all know they want to spy on everything, but surely, logic dictates that they would want something like that kept secret. Not to go out and leak it themselves as you say.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:31am

    This department has Ian Ducan Smith as its minister who is really rubbish. Was run by chris grayling who is also rubbish and now running the ministry of justice. both are complete failures who are pissing money up the wall, involving fraudulant companies like A4E, G4S, SERCO so this is of no surprise.

     

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  11.  
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    SMH, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:37am

    UK Welfare Project Boss

    We're not gonna make it are we?

     

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  12.  
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    Michael, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:47am

    Re:

    Rule #2 as a software developer, clinging to something that is architecturally no-good is quite often a misguided waste of time.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:53am

    No wonder we can't afford to feed and house the poor, IDS and his dickbrained mates are throwing money away on ill thought out, horribly managed, useless projects.

    At least the tech firms won't starve though. They're people too.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:57am

    Re:

    To his 'universal credit', he has lived on welfare....for maybe six months in his life.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:58am

    Plan to throw one away

    … they have to scrap the whole thing and now start all over again…


    The management question, therefore, is not whether to build a pilot system and throw it away. You will do that. […] Hence plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow.

                ——Fred P. Brooks, The Mythical Man Month: Essays on Software Engineering.

     

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 8:58am

    Re:

    Hey, at least A4E are vaguely competent - this shower of villains couldn't organise a piss-up in Jack's brewery.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 9:00am

    Re: Re:

    Tell that to Netscape.

    (Look up how Netscape knocked themselves out of the web browser business if you don't understand what I'm referring to)

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 9:03am

    Re:

    You're likely to make most of the exact same mistakes all over again


    Q: What's an IBM man year?

    A: Seven-hundred thirty and a half (730.5) developers all getting it done before lunch.

     

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  19.  
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    Pat Labine, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 9:05am

    headlines

    "sounds like these guys are somewhat technologically clueless and got taken for a ride by some tech vendors "

    political pencil pushers clueless about technology?
    Tech firms taking advantage of clueless client?

    Why... yes.

    In other news, the sun will rise from the East, gravity attracts things towards the ground and a new study makes wild claims about good diets and exercise... you wont believe what they say!...

     

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  20.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 9:23am

    Re:

    Starting over again is often a bad idea, but not for the reason you cite. If you're likely to make the same mistakes again, then you aren't learning from experience. I would argue that impairs your ability to be a great software developer.

    Also, starting over again can be an incredibly good idea if you haven't released the software yet. The first try at a piece of software if often riddled with poor design decisions because of unanticipated difficulties. Writing an initial "throw-away" version can highlight where the real design issues are and can inform you as to how to design it better the second time.

     

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  21.  
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    Rich, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 9:31am

    Re:

    Completely untrue. Developers should always count on "one to throw away," that is, the prototype. Then you start clean with what you've learned. The problem is the prototype rarely gets thrown out.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 9:34am

    On the bright side they didn't bought a picture of the system for forty million pounds.

     

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  23.  
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    Ed, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 9:56am

    It's not hard to see how this happens...

    Where I work (private multinational) there is a global architecture board that is currently evaluating open-source solutions, but those solutions need to be certified before we can apply them locally.

    If I had a project launching right now, I would have to choose between proprietary (higher cost) solutions, or wait and wait for a global approved standard. Sometimes, you can't wait.

    I am guessing here, but I would suppose that the UK gov't has some sort of centralized IT services (and hosting), and each ministry or departments needs to follow the standards.

    If that's the case, it's very very valid to say "these options weren't available two years ago".

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Plan to throw one away

    Brooks was right all those years ago: he's right now. You MUST throw away the first one, and you MUST know that you will from the moment it's conceived as an idea in your mind.

    If you don't, you end up with bloated, insecure, buggy, slow monstrosities -- Adobe Acrobat comes to mind as a ubiquitous example.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 12:59pm

    Re: It's not hard to see how this happens...

    "Certified"? Certified by whom? How? For what purpose?

    Have we not learned that software certifications are completely worthless? That the only purpose they serve is to be cash cows for certifying vendors? That "certified" software routinely fails miserably? That most certifications are rubber stamps applied after payment of a hefty fee?

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 1:03pm

    Re: It's not hard to see how this happens...

    That's very funny. It's almost a given that all your competitors are using open source and lowering their costs in the process (thus improving margins).

    How do I know? I spent almost 10 years doing open source strategy for very, very large multinationals and that was a typical pattern....

    The result was that stragglers were always lagging in margins and their execs were getting hammered for it...

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 1:05pm

    Re: Re: It's not hard to see how this happens...

    Certification, in this context, is likely an internal process. Most companies have some way of vetting technology before it gets deployed - it's standard practice in most large companies and has become more rigorous due to SarBox signoff rules.

    E.g. it's not what you think it is.... ;-)

     

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  28.  
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    Management, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 1:59pm

    Those Darned Self-Changing Specifications!

    "...they had to write off £40.1 million worth of IT assets, covering some of the original infrastructure investment, which they say "was of good quality" but "didn't reflect the needs of the project anymore because the specifications had changed so much."

    It was those darned self-changing specifications that caused all the trouble! If we didn't have specifications we wouldn't be having these problems!

    /s

     

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  29.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 16th, 2013 @ 3:04pm

    Re:

    While a very messy way of stating this, wasn't the American healthcare.gov site also developed using waterfall? Perhaps it's time for people to stop using that for software projects on this scale...


    Or, use it correctly.

    Waterfall is no more prone to resulting in crap than agile is. They can both be done poorly enough that the resulting product sucks (although which methodology you use does influence the exact flavor of the crap).

    The "appeal" of agile is purely that it increases productivity.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 5:53pm

    you have a government welfare project, spending tens of millions of pounds on a proprietary system that was built for a different purpose than what they needed, and it was so inflexible that they have to scrap the whole thing and now start all over again.

    I forget: Are government welfare projects for the people or for the companies? If it's for IT companies, £40.1 million worth of money for IT companies sounds like he's doing a great job!

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2013 @ 7:29pm

    Liar.

     

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  32.  
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    Brian Wernham, Dec 17th, 2013 @ 12:17am

    HP Sauce or "Open source"

    Howard Shiplee is an expert at delivering buildings. He managed the construction of the buildings for the Olympics.

    I am not aware that he has ever managed a large software and services project like Universal Credit.

    He has only just arrived (in last 8 months), so he cannot be held accountable for the money junked on Universal Credit v1.0, or the fiasco that is Universal Credit v2.0 (the current Pathfinder trials that are using temporary software).

    He is, however, responsible for the kick-off of Universal Credit v3.0.

    You can see a video demo released by Cabinet Office here:
    http://bit.ly/geeks-in-sandals

    Fun huh?

    Brian
    London

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    PaulT (profile), Dec 17th, 2013 @ 1:18am

    Re: It's not hard to see how this happens...

    "If that's the case, it's very very valid to say "these options weren't available two years ago"."

    As long as he realises the difference between "they weren't available to *us* due to our own bureaucracy" and "they literally didn't exist", then that's a fine comment. Hopefully that would be an impetus to look at why the options he's now going to use weren't available to him at the time, and how the system can be improved to save further massive wastes of public money in the future.

    However, I'd dare say that not everybody's confident that he understands this, hence the problem.

     

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  34.  
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    PaulT (profile), Dec 17th, 2013 @ 1:29am

    Re: Re:

    True, but isn't the appeal of agile largely due to the fact the higher productivity rate integrates testing at every phase, meaning that major problems are caught quicker and fixed easier?

    I'm no expert here, but while I'm sure no methodology is perfect, waterfall's always been presented to me as problematic for projects of this scale. Though, maybe I've just been talking to agile fanboys since I've only recently had to directly support the servers and tools for devs (in fact, I know I have to a degree).

     

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  35.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 17th, 2013 @ 9:46am

    Re: Re: Re:

    isn't the appeal of agile largely due to the fact the higher productivity rate integrates testing at every phase, meaning that major problems are caught quicker and fixed easier?


    No. Properly done waterfall also integrates testing every step of the way. There's no difference there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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