Does Not Compute

By: A.C.

I note that, once again, the computer systems at the DWP hotline was described by Disability News Service as “ The system used for new personal independence payment (PIP) claims has crashed twice in a fortnight, leaving disabled callers unable to get through to lodge their claims.” 

I can at this point only use my rather surreal thinking to imagine what various Civil Servants on the Procurement team and the slick salespeople on the computer manufacturer side say to each other in private.

“I say, do you actually understand any of this computer software stuff ?  “Frankly, old boy who cares, they say it is a rather spiffing system that will make our Civil Service more affordable and efficient”.

It would seem that computer failures are not new. There are many examples if you search on Google for “computer failure DWP”.  The BBC and others reported in 2004  of a major computer failure.  

In 2013 a former employee warned of massive problems with the DWP IT system. Recently there have been more failures and warnings. 

There was a point in the 90’s where computers were basically an unknown to many people, and their nearest use of them was in the office instead of typewriters or a metal cabinet filing system. Or possibly those very slow–loading cassette tapes to the home computer.

Since the IT bubble burst around that time, and the spivs and speculators got burnt badly,  because  people said “aye, right” to all the wonderful things that computers and the software could allegedly do, things have calmed down a bit.

At that time, the BBC Comedy series “Chewin The Fat” featured a pair of chancer computer salesmen ( Ford Keirnan & Greg Hemphill) who probably typified how people saw the employees of  a now defunct computer and electrical sales company.

In the case of the Government – do their procurement team just do the equivalent of the sucker buyer who likes a used car, then gives the tyre a swift kick to display their supposed nous and intuition of a good buy? These corporate manufacturers are sharp high-end salespeople, acting like used car salesman who promise the computer system will last for years – and the car (or computer & software) barely makes it down the street before it coughs its last. 

As regards the Legal end of the purchase process, I sincerely believe that even the lawyers who are charged with reviewing and exposing damaging clauses in the contract, and who are supposed to protect the public funds, probably do not actually understand the full implications of certain clauses, and maybe those who wrote them in the first place don’t’ actually understand them either.

There is a large element of gambling involved in these huge purchases, because probably nobody wants to actually admit that maybe the product is unsuitable or unfit, and the buyer is in the “ I want to buy this mode” which is always a salesman dream. The buyer wants it regardless; because he is flush with money and confidence his tyre–kicking exercise has gone well.

Meanwhile, at the sharp end of these continual failures, are real people, in desperate need and requiring their government through the call centres to work for them and provide that social security safety net when accident, illness, disability, redundancy or homelessness strike.

Why do these systems not get road –tested for several years before they are installed?

Police Scotland, had/have multiple software legacy systems from its component Police Constabularies.   So consolidating and merging these systems, for operational control, archives and so on was a priority.

On Holyrood.com an article from February states “Police Scotland has raised serious doubts over the ability of multinational technology firm Accenture to deliver its flagship ICT project amid claims the supplier have “very clearly let us down”.     

Then in July of this year The Guardian reported that the project had been abandoned.

What happens when any of these Police, Ambulance or Fire systems goes down or has a power cut? 

I suppose a ballpoint pen and a carbonated notepad would be a requirement with a massive retro–data entry required after the power comes on again. Unlike the DWP call–centre operatives reported in the Disability News Service article who just told people to “ call back”.

Like all emergencies, the public need someone on the other end of the phone to respond to their needs. 

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