Wednesday, 5 October 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
87. Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Finance if he is satisfied that the systems used for public procurement of computer systems are robust; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26683/05]
Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen): Public procurement of computer systems operates within a policy defined by European and domestic procurement law. Up to date guidelines for public procurement, including information technology solutions, were issued to Departments and offices by my Department in 2004. I am satisfied that the procurement systems in place are robust and as a general rule operate in a satisfactory manner. However, this is a matter that my Department keeps under review and it is currently developing a peer review process for large computer projects that will be introduced in 2006. This will bring to bear the experiences of senior computer managers across the Civil Service to evaluate the viability of project proposals, determine the best implementation method and review progress at critical stages.
The specification, design and implementation of computer-IT systems can be quite complex and challenging. There are many examples of good implementations of such systems throughout the public service. Unfortunately, however, there are also examples where projects can and do run into difficulties for a variety of reasons. Sometimes delays occur because of a change in requirements or scope or because something arose that was not foreseen. Sometimes, unfortunately, expenditure overruns arise from poor planning and poor decision making in an individual organisation.
Issues in relation to the two health systems came to my Department’s attention in the context of the establishment of the HSE and the new financial arrangements put in place earlier this year. The ICT allocation became subject to the controls and constraints that already apply to spending on computing in Departments and offices. My Department became aware of very large expenditures on both of these systems, including what seemed to be a very heavy reliance on external consultancy. My Department was also concerned about a decision to adopt an approach to data take-on which seemed to be overly complex and expensive.
My Department brought its concerns to the attention of the Department of Health and Children and the HSE and requested a review of both systems with a view to identifying less complex approaches to completing their implementation and their subsequent ongoing operation. I understand that such a review is now under way within the HSE.
More generally, the HR management system is in successful and widespread use throughout the Civil Service. It is based on the market leading software which is modified to cater for the specific needs of the Civil Service. It is a system that is seen as critical to the better management of HR resources within the Civil Service. The latest version, for example, includes features to allow recording of flexible working arrangements and their consequences for pensionable service.
I note that there have been issues concerning the suitability of this system for the Prison Service and this has been highlighted in the recent Comptroller and Auditor General annual report. Any future decisions for a replacement HR system in the Prison Service will be subjected to the proposed peer review mechanism I already referred to.
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