Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Britain’s new Victorian age?

Posted in People / organisations by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on April 12, 2006

As I travelled to London last week I was delighted by this headline:

Accenture’s NHS losses grow as NPfIT delays mount: Accenture, the leading management and technology consulting firm, announced a provision for a further $450 million of losses against its contract to deploy IT systems on behalf of the English NHS. The provision led to a sharp drop in quarterly profits.

Not (necessarily) that I take pleasure in Accenture losing money, more that it the possibility of losing money or gaining profit does wonderful things to the running of projects. I am reminded of an excellent lecture “Fraud, bankruptcy, suicide and transportation: The history of the London Underground railway” by Dr Stephen Halliday. The link has the lecture’s transcript and video, and it is worth viewing, and the anecdotes are often hilarious. As the title suggests, the lecture is filled with stories of fraud, bankruptcy and suicide from the Victorian businessmen (and they were men) who built the London underground:

[W]ithout these kind foreigners and without people like Charles Tyson Yerkes, we would have no Underground Railway. I hope that by the time I’ve finished speaking, you will have come to the conclusion that Ken Livingston is a pussy cat compared with some of these!

The National Program for IT is making a lot of mistakes and the latest issue of UK Health Informatics Today is full of my criticisms of these mistakes, including an insufficiently fluid marketplace for the contracts. But, at least they do have private contractors for this enormous public sector big project. These private contractors can lose money, as Accenture and iSoft have found out, and that concentrates the mind beautifully. By contrast public sector managers who have overpromised, overspent and underdelivered remain in their jobs and their careers continue to progress.

Of course the other side of the coin, however, is that when the remaining contractors do start making money – and they will, handsomely so – the public will not begrudge them the money.


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