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November 20, 2005

NHS IT chief slams suppliers for project delays

Richard Granger, director general of IT at the UK National Health Service, has blamed delays to the $10bn Connecting For Health program on the "variable ability" of suppliers.

By CBR Staff Writer

According to Granger, while the contracts awarded under the scheme are largely working as planned, performance standards have been inconsistent. For example, he stated that BT Group, which is overhauling the IT of the NHS’ London cluster, have a challenge on their hands to complete the project on time.

Last month, BT denied that it was in danger of incurring fines on its 996m-pound ($1.7bn) contract, despite reports claiming that it was up to 12 months behind on the deal. The company will have found little comfort in Granger’s uncompromising analysis of the correct way to deal with failing suppliers.

Granger said that, with such a high-profile deal, the consequence of failure would be termination, with the outstanding work given to the more successful suppliers. He likened the project to a sled being pulled by huskies.

When one of the dogs goes lame, and begins to slow the others down, they are shot, he said. They are then chopped up and fed to the other dogs. The survivors work harder, not only because they’ve had a meal, but also because they have seen what will happen should they themselves go lame.

This tough approach, which includes public declarations of supplier performance being published on the project’s website, had brought sharp focus to the supplier community, said Granger. He joked that Atos Origin had been a day late in delivering their program, but we decided to let them off.

Granger identified immaturity in the IT services sector as a whole as the main reason why he felt the need to keep major vendors such as BT, Accenture and Fujitsu on such a tight leash. He also admitted that the initial procurement process had been bruising for some in the supplier community. IBM Global Services noticeably failed to win any of the five deals that made up the Connecting For Health project.

In focusing on the failings of suppliers, Granger deflected attention away from claims that he himself has accused the UK government of bringing the NHS deal to the brink of collapse. In a leaked email published this week, Granger is reported as saying that late requests for changes in the electronic booking system for hospital appointments were in grave danger of derailing the entire program.

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When asked by Computer Business Review if he stood by the statements attributed to him, Granger replied that he had not been quoted as saying that, and refused to discuss the issue further.

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