Friday, 3 May 2013

Private Universe

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It was very interesting on the 1st May to see how pruned down the Universal Credit (UC) trial has become. Day one of what was going to be a representative test of the new IT and back office systems for six months has been reduced to a very restrictive test in Ashton-Under-Lyne, borough of Tameside, Greater Manchester. To their credit as plucky northerners, they have already thought about internet access for claimants, at libraries and the town hall.

Ashton-U-Lyne you have your 15mins of fame.

Having grown up in social housing in the Glossop area I was familiar with Ashton, long journeys on the (far from express) 236 (formally the no 6) and 237 bus  which passed through it. My first job took me close to Ashton old road too at GEC Higher Openshaw (lovingly called the Go Easy Club). That part of east Manchester had been by-passed from much of the regeneration going on elsewhere. My fathers brother, my uncle Arthur lived there in Pennel street. When my Auntie Gladys died in 1999 their two up, two down terraced house fetched just £8K. So it is an area with some deprivation.

Times have changed though, for the better. My auntie and uncle missed the Commonwealth games at the stadium and its conversion to The Etihad, also the Metrolink extension up to Oldham is trickling wealth eastwards. It’s a place where a new system could be tested as all human life is there. The funny thing is that it’s not actually happening that way.

No more than 300 people will be processed over 6 months on this system. Only straightforward stuff, nothing complicated, single people, no children or dependence, no care responsibilities, no homelessness, everyone must have a bank account and a valid NI number. Almost certainly this will be a resounding success. If it isn’t, the IT development so far has got to be absolute pants. Well no-one is stretching the testing here and just as well, there has been four different directors overseeing the IT development in the last 6 months. I think this reveals what a hot potato this one is. You would think they would be thinking outside the jacket then?

Well seemingly not. This trial will test only the simplest group and only a minuscule number of them. Is this usual IT system testing practice? Not at any company I have ever worked at. The ‘use cases’ I have always worked with have always been the most complex we can devise. You learn quite soon that if you don’t start there, your system designs are guaranteed to fail. 

This £550M IT project has had its challenges, see
There are some interesting links at the bottom of that page too.

The Guardian on day one of the trial had this to say:
If the quality of the spelling on the first page of the universal credit online application offers any insight into the overall readiness for the launch, then it is tempting to speculate that preparations were somewhat rushed.
The first step of the claim form for the government's flagship welfare reform initiative, billed as the biggest change to the benefits system for 60 years, invites people to input a security code, "separating" each word with a space.

Probably more a reflection as to the country that the software was written, maybe Vietnam, India or Russia.

The whole point of a successful pilot is to try the new system in a number of regions (the initial intention) and use that as an opportunity to learn. With the hindsight of experience, I would guess that many of the real-life complex cases that occur have not yet been designed into the system or not yet delivered. Hence the charade of a micro test in Ashton-Under-Lyne. As mentioned, IDS will surely be able to declare this trial a “complete success” in October when it’s planned to be in the can. It’s doubtful though that anything that falls out of the ‘strictly normal’ can be validated in this box ticking exercise.

In my experience when you gloss over detail or problems it bites someone on the bottom before long. It might be an age thing, but I do like this stuff all coming out (or sometimes looking for it) up front, rather than finding it later and having all the stress of that. Failure to do it costs someone money, fills the pockets of consultants and suppliers. This time it will be the taxpayer picking up the bill, not politicians or the DWP, for badly specified, tested or implemented Universal Credit IT.

So it will give me no pleasure to see this fail, as I (and you my friend) are paying for it.

You can link with me on LinkedIn here - It would be great to connect !

Read on to : Life In the hacked Lane

Crowded House - Private Universe.

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting 07854-655009

PS As usual, if there are subjects you might like me to tackle on this blog, please get in touch and let me know!

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Tony,
    You followed me on twitter so i thought i'll have a look at your blog.

    Interesting view of the universal credit system from someone 'on the ground'. I work for CIH so housing is my job and have done work on UC. Like you i like photography too so it's good to connect.
    Best wishes