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Audit Scotland sets five principles for digital projects



New briefing identifies issues from auditor’s examinations of public sector ICT and takes in learning from previous programmes

Scottish public authorities have been urged to pay close attention to leadership, planning, oversight, governance and placing the user at the centre in implementing ICT projects.

The country’s central auditor has outlined the five principles in a new report, Principles for a digital future, aimed at supporting public bodies’ efforts to harness digital in modernising their services.

It has made the recommendations in response to what it has learned from earlier reports into individual programmes, such as those on its audits of the NHS 24 service and the National Fraud Initiative.

It makes the point that over the past five years the Scottish public sector has spent around £4 billion on ICT, with organisations moving from paper based to digital processes and the public’s expectations focusing more on digital. This emphasises the importance of giving any projects a strong chance of being delivered successfully.

The principles, which largely reflect much of the common advice within the sector, are:

  • Provide clear leadership that sets the tone and culture and provides accountability.
  • Set individual projects in a central framework of strategic oversight and assurance.
  • Plan comprehensively, setting out what you want to achieve and how you will do it.
  • Set up active governance, providing appropriate control and oversight.
  • Place users at the heart of the project.

Within these are recommendations such as breaking projects down into manageable stages, avoiding excessive optimism, integrating risk management with the whole project, developing independent assurance arrangements such as gateway reviews, and keeping up engagement with users.

The briefing says the principles should not be considered in isolation as they all interact in creating the environment for a project. But a key factor underpinning each is to have the right skills and experience in place at the right time.


Morag Campsie, an audit manager with Audit Scotland, commented: “It’s no wonder that as a society, we increasingly expect our public bodies to use digital when delivering services, or that more and more organisations themselves are placing digital at the centre of their plans for future transformation of services.

“However, designing and managing ICT programmes remains a challenge for public bodies. Over the past few years, we’ve reported on a number of ICT projects which have gone wrong or had issues.”

She said the new report is designed to pull together lessons learned from Audit Scotland’s previous reports on ICT programmes and to include insights from other countries.

“We’ve now completed that work and we found that the issues experienced by Scottish public sector bodies are no different to those experienced around the world, or indeed in the private sector,” she said.

Image from Audit Scotland, Open Government Licence

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