Only time will show wisdom of £200m. call
WHEN the ashes of this four-year Assembly are sifted through by coming generations, this week’s decision to spend more than £200m. revolutionising the States’ IT systems may prove to be its defining moment.
The success or failure of the 10-year contract with Agilisys will either be a turbo-charged vehicle to public sector transformation, huge savings and a boosted economy or a yoke around the neck of future States’ services.
Those with memories of disastrous States’ IT projects of the past have good reason to hope for the former but fear the latter.
Painful experiences of the past do not, however, have to dictate the future.
The States at one time could not bring in any development project on time and on budget. It was almost guaranteed that any major piece of infrastructure – from airports to schools and hospital wings – would cost many millions more than was budgeted.
With application, it has largely shed that reputation, although there are worrying signs that the urge to overspend has not entirely disappeared and, while deadlines are never missed, they are often moved.
The Agilisys contract is, to some extent, more important than a single piece of infrastructure such as a new office. Sir Charles Frossard House might have been ugly, badly designed and ill-suited for its purpose. But its construction bill was a one-off.
Done badly, this IT project will throw a hefty spanner in States’ budgets each and every year for decades to come. It will hamper every aspect of government business and interaction with islanders. And it will clip the wings of local businesses hoping to benefit from a digital boost.
The downsides are, of course, the mirror image of the promised benefits.
In these honeymoon early months there is rightful optimism that the States’ rigorous vetting procedure has won it a technology partner who can help the island achieve those benefits and shed its historic fear of IT failure.
Only as the years pass will the wisdom or otherwise of Wednesday’s fateful decision become clear.
It is in all our interests that deputies are shown to have got one of their biggest calls right.