COVID 19 Tracking App – Another Government project debacle?

by Martin Crack

So where is this tracking App?

Over this lock down period I have posted a couple of articles, about Open-Source and its benefits and more widely on our IT industry’s societal face and our response to the crisis. If only with my product management hat on, I have to admit to disappointment on behalf of our industry and our now much published, seeming inability to deliver a tracing app for coronavirus in the UK. On the face of it all of the stars were in alignment for a solution; at least one readily available Open-Source code base from a “working” solution in Singapore; over 30 operational equivalents worldwide from which to learn; a European standards group engaged to work on data interchange and regulation; a national IT development industry which considers itself amongst the best in the world for consumer based apps (gaming & mobile); world leading development methodologies and, let’s face it, no shortage of available talent especially given the number of furloughed staff around now.

What happened? In a position that most product managers I know would love to find themselves, with a guaranteed market, pretty tight specification (at least high level) and a more than willing test community how could we reach a point after 3 months or more where we have nothing more than a less than successful beta on the Isle of Wight, predictions that the system will not be working until September at the earliest, and more headlines that suggest yet another under delivering government IT project.

Now I do not believe that apportioning blame really helps, especially for the situation in which we find ourselves but where do we look for answers? There are many “what-if” and alternative scenarios; if the government had given the job to commerce; if we had adopted an existing solution; if we had appealed more widely for help from the community, but that’s all water under the bridge. How does our industry or more precisely the team engaged to deliver this app, turn what looks like failure to date, into a successful world beating solution? Personally I think it all goes back to a point a made a few months ago where, in an ideal world I would advocate a combination of Open-Source rigour, collaboration and community based contributory development combined with a commercial clamour to develop within budget and, in this case more precisely, time! Whilst currently under development by NHSX, a specialist NHS innovation unit, and Oxford University there is precious little information about it in circulation and, to my knowledge, few or no requests for input. 

Given the seeming lack of progress, an apparent wealth of good will and available talent, an undisputed need and all on top of an increasingly embarrassing industry image, isn’t it time to request help?

Update: As the House of Lords hears reports on progress, or lack thereof, and ever extending release date estimates I am back to my original question in this series – would we have been better trusting this to one of our eager, commercial young guns, even if we have to leave the compliance issues to higher powers?

About The Author

Martin Crack is an Associate Partner at Illuminet, with over 30 years’ experience in commercial ICT services, mostly in sales aligned technical positions.

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