British Computer Society

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.


According to the British Computer Society (BCS) report, In 2003/04, it is estimated that the UK public sector spent £ 12.4 billion on IT, where as the total spent in the UK for IT was £ 22.6 billion. As such, one would expect the investment to be delivering the full return in the estimated time span along with high perdition. However, as per the findings in this report, it is alarming to learn the amount of IT failures suffered by many industries after investing massive amounts money. (The Royal Academy of Engineering and The British Computer Society. “The Challenges of Complex IT Projects”, 2004)

The demand for complex IT systems is in an upward trend due to the rapidly increasing requirements by individuals as well as organizations. In order to cater to these needs, a rapid improvement could be observed in hardware, software and communication modes. As a result of this rapid growth in the industry, an escalation of failures incorporated is monitored by various studies.


A complex IT system is a system, which involves a number of elements arranged in different structures that can exist on many scales. These include the high number of personal involved in the project, the amount of money invested, the extent of the amount of hardware used, the advance software coding and the estimated time span from start of the project till completion. Further, As such, any changes made outside the initial plan would lead to various failures in different levels, which may cause organizations major losses. Unlike in small projects, complex projects should be handled with absolute dedication by the personal involved. It is difficult to estimate overall complexity at the initial stage of the project; however, during the life span of the project it may involve more complicity.

The sources that make IT project complex are its project environment, political, social, and economic issues in the project’s internal environment, in addition with technology. The IT project is conducted on a large and uncertain environment, which creates a considerable complexity to the project planners and the participants. (The Royal Academy of Engineering and The British Computer Society. “The Challenges of Complex IT Projects”, 2004; The Royal Academy of Engineering and The British Computer Society. “Case Study of Successful Complex IT Projects”, 2006; Henderson, 2006; Krishhbaum. D “Introduction to Complex Systems”; Why Project Fail, nd)


Lyytinen and Hirschheim (1987) made a research to identify the theoretical reasons of IT project failure.

Correspondence (failure to deliver in accordance with the specification)

Process (failure to deliver within specified time and cost)

Interaction (the communication gap between the software developers and the end users using the system)

Exceptions (failure to deliver any key features and benefits to time, cost and specifications)

(Duquenoy P., “Ethical, Legal and professional issues in Computing”, Cangage learning EMEA, 2007, p 180)

Additionally, other researches and surveys were done in order to figure out what the main reasons are of IT Complex Project Failures. The following graph offers a clear picture of the reasons for IT project failure:

(Failure Causes, Bull survey, 1998; cited 18 March, 2009)

On the vertical axis we have causes of IT failures, and on the horizontal axis the percentage is shown in diagram. According to the diagram the main reason of failure is poor communication. Further, inadequate coordination of recourses makes the project failure. Quality control stands as a third reason for project collapse. Other reasons include mismanagement, exceed budget, problems in software and inability to meet project requirements.

According to another survey made in 1998 by a French computer manufacturer in UK identifies major causes like:

Missed deadlines (75%)

Exceed budget (55%)

Poor communication (40%)

Inability to meet project requirements (37%)

The Chaos Report (1995) presents the overview over the rate of IT project failure. This survey has been held among 365 IT managers. Results on why projects fail are shown in the chart below:

(Failure Causes, The Chaos report, 1995; cited 18 March, 2009)

As we can see in this chart incomplete requirements and lack of user involvement are top ranked reasons of failure. Though, lack of planning in previous survey ranked as a atop reason, here it stands in the seventh level, that makes us to agree that causes of failure can be different depending on the company and its business sphere. (Failure causes, 1998)

In a study carried out by The British Computer Society (BCS), for the same purpose of attempting to understand the main reasons for the failures in large IT projects. As presented in the BCS report, The National Audit Office (NAO) and Office of Government Commerce (OGC), for example, have compiled a list of the eight most common causes of failure in public sector IT projects, most of which seem equally applicable to the private sector.

Lack of clear link between the project and the organization’s key strategic priorities, including agreed measures of success.

Lack of clear senior management & ministerial ownership & leadership.

Lack of effective engagement with stakeholders.

Lack of skills and proven approach to project management and risk management.

Lack of understanding of and contact with the supply industry at senior levels in the organization.

Evaluation of proposals driven by initial price rather than long term value for money (especially securing delivery of business benefits).

Too little attention to breaking development and implementation into manageable steps.

Inadequate resources and skills to deliver the total portfolio. (Challenges of complex IT projects – BCS Report, 2004).

In modern time it is quite easy to find examples of IT failure as they are very common and occur in everyday life when launching big projects. Although, people preparing IT projects are bright, smart and well-paid, still the statistics of failure are high.

1988 Feb – hardware problems caused the Bank of America to lose control of several billions. 255 people were fired.

1987 – California Department of Motor Vehicles launched a major project to revitalize the driver’s license and registration application process, by 1993 after 45 million dollars had already been spent, project was cancelled.

1993 – Oregon Department of Motor vehicles launched the project cost $50 million and in 3 years it was cancelled because of frequent failures

March 1997 Washington killed biggest IT project which aimed at automating vehicle registration process

1993 – London Stock Exchange abandoned the development of “Taurus” system which cost £800 million

1987-1993 – London Ambulance Service cancelled computer-aided dispatch system

1994 – American Airlines’s joint CONFIRM car rental and hotel reservation project was dumped

1991 – Passport Office kicked off a project to automate entire production of certain documents (Failure examples of IT projects, nd cited 20 March, 2009)


As many other countries in the world, UK has experienced the consequences of large IT project failures. Amongst the many incidents, we will be focusing on two examples from the UK transport sector.



Early in year 2006, when the construction works of Terminal 5 (T5), at Heathrow Airport was nearly completed, British Airports Authority (BAA) commenced the installation of IT system infrastructure, for which the costs was an estimated £250m. This system was the backbone of terminal’s operation work. The key attributes of this system are focused on managing aircrafts, passengers and cargo rather than information management. The testing of the mentioned system started a year before the launching date. (IT projects failures, 2008)

The highly complex and advance system at T5 involved 180 IT suppliers along with 163 IT systems in place. This system will govern 546 interfaces, a number exceeding 9,000 connected devices and 2,100 PCs bridged via cabling of which the length would measure "to Istanbul and back". It was estimated for 400,000 man-hours employed in building the majestic IT system. The baggage handling system consists of two main components supplied by IT giant IBM & Vanderlande. The IBM system is in place to identify the destination details of the baggage where as the Vanderlande supplied systems will decide the most suitable route to channel them. (Krigsman M., “IT project Failures”, 2008, cited 20 March, 2009)


The automated scanning system was unable to keep up to the high volume of baggage flow, resulting in system failures, which lead to incorrect information given to the staff. In one instance, the system predicted a particular flight has departed, thus, turned the baggage around back to the terminal while the passengers were watching the incident from the aircraft still parked at the gate. (IT projects failures, 2008)

The escalating affects of the system failures led from heavy delays as far as flight cancellations by BA. On 28th March 2008, day following the grand opening of T5, seven flights departed without any baggage aboard, before BA commenced cancellation of 20% of flights. While some passengers were forced to make home at the airport due to their flights being cancelled, the other passengers from arriving flights left the terminal with no baggage, leaving their personal details with staff in order to send the baggage across.

Another 12 and 6 flights, on a Saturday and Sunday respectively in early April 2008, had to be cancelled by BA due to a baggage system failure. The system failure occurred in the baggage reconciliation section, where staff was manually carrying out the task, which led to severe delays and cancellations of flights. An “incorrect configuration” of the system paralysed the data transfer from the baggage handling system to the reconciliation system subsequently informing invalid information to the staff. (Thomson R., “Risk Management”, 2008, cited 20 March, 2009)

In a five-day span since the opening of the terminal, BA has suffered a loss of £16million along with the cancellation of 500 flights and was responsible for 23,000 missing bags. With the implementation of the new IT system, Department for Transportation (DFT) projected for a saving of £57million over a ten year period. However, it is estimated on a loss of £81million, as a result of the project failures. (Thomson R., “Project Management”, 2008, cited 20 March, 2009; Krigsman M., “IT project Failures”, 2008)

5.1.3 Main causes for failures.

Poor levels of project management.

The House of Commons accused DFT for the gross mismanagement of the IT project. Lord Edward Leigh, Member of Parliament, termed it as worst cases of project management and it has been implemented with stupendous incompetence. The House of Commons conclude that there are three ways in which project can fail. The first of which is by delays of introducing planned implementation, the increased budgets followed by the poorer delivery of service. They find that DFT has failed on all of the three fronts. They find the T5 IT project failure is a result of poor internal management due to insufficient control and oversight either on the course of software vendors or external integrators. Further, according to BA chief executive, delays on the terminal construction by BAA, has reduced the system training opportunities for the airline staff.

Lack of user training

BA chief executive admitted to the fact that the staff did not receive sufficient training on the system so far as to trouble shoot on the live system.

Mishandling by IT technicians

Software filters which were in play during the testing period, in order to avoid the live system at other sections of Heathrow receiving any specimen messages created by the T5 test system. However, the filters were still active at the time of the opening of T5, which blocked any data transfer from other terminals of the airport. The IT technicians removed the filters four days after the opening of T5, on 31st March 2008. (Krigsman M., “IT project Failures”, 2008; Thomson R., “Project Management”, 2008)



The National Air Traffic Service’s (NATS) Swanwick control centre boasts of one of the most advanced air traffic control centres in the world. The centre controls one of the most busiest and complex airspaces in the world measuring 200,000 square miles above England & Wales. The figure of 6000 flights being handled by the centre on a busy summer's day reflects the responsibility & the complexity of the systems in place. The IT system comprises of over 2million lines of software codes which is supporting over 3,300 functionalities. More than 200 workstations are interconnected to 23 subsystems which exceed 30miles of cabling in order to supply information. The centre is manned by a total of 644 staff members who are trained on operations & maintenance of the system.


Followed by almost six years of extreme efforts by the officials, since the opening of the Britain’s main air traffic control centre in Swanwick on 27th January 2002, it has suffered numerous IT failures which have caused major disruptions to the flow of air traffic. The IT system failure of the £623 million control centre in Swanwick affected the high altitude flight monitoring abilities where the flights had to be offered alternate flight patterns. Britain’s largest air traffic controller, NATS Swanwick centre was recorded to have been struck by computer glitches in the past, at one point where the controllers had to be dependent on had written slips of paper for the call sign and route of the aircraft. On 17th May 2002, flights were delayed up to 6 hours, due to an IT failure at NATS.

A computer failure on 25th September 2008, forced cancellations of few flights & causing delays for hundreds of other flights at airports south east of England. All departures were suspended between 4pm & 4.30pm at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstad and Luton airports, whilst British Airways was forced to cancel a few flights to minimise the build-up of traffic which inevitably queued up to 30 flights.

Closely monitoring the publications on, the £337million IT system of the control centre has failed to deliver the expected results even six months after the system went live at Swanwick.

Main cases for failures.

As per a recorded IT failure at Swanwick, in April 2002, the chief executive of the NATS claimed the failure was due to incorrect information which was fed into the system and was not a result of a computer glitch.

Lack of user training: According to BBC news, the top executives of NATS have claimed the personal are still at a stage of learning the complex system in place at the control centre. Further according to the same report, one other factor that has affected the smooth operation of the IT system is the partial privatisation issues of NATS.

The approximate six year delay in commencing operations of the centre, which is backed by IBM and Lockheed Martin computer systems, amongst many other reasons, was due to the difficulties faced on the development of 2million lines of computer coding.

Inadequet coordination of resources: A staff shortage at the control centre was added to the disruption of services, which caused delays on flights. Airlines expected delays as a result of staff duty time being taken up by the training sessions on the new system.

Lack of planning: A software upgrade installation which took place in July 2002 was a key contributor to the flight delays of one hour, in England & Wales.

(Hardware, NAT’s chief’s truly awful' weekends with more delays, 2002; London area control centre, nd; Swanswick’s problems hit passengers hard, 2002; BBC news, “Computer breakdown disrupts flight”, 2002,; Milmo D., “Major delays at airports after computer failure”, 2008, cited 24 March, 2009)


In most aspect of our lives it is clear that a lot depends on Information Technology. Due to huge demand and high expectations of users, IT projects become incredibly complex and difficult to manage or maintain. Thus, failures incorporated have become quite obvious. Billions of dollars are invested in development of error free IT systems because failures results in huge corporate losses and companies face with downfall of brand name as well as profits.

It is clear that major causes of failures are lack of management, not enough training given to the staff, no proper synchronization between the requirement of the organization and the supplied solution. Insufficient use of resources and skills in order to meet the budget deadlines, scattered responsibilities among the management and lack of professionalism shown by the IT professionals make projects impossible to be successful.

These aspects of project failures were identified by the reference documents, which were published by the British Computer Society (BCS) report in 2003 and in the Chaos Report in 1995. Hence, as the conclusion to this report, we agree with the findings made by the reference documents. Further, recommendations mentioned below are suggested on future IT projects.

Extensive planning to be done on the project prior to the commencement. This should include, project management, risk management and realistic time management methodologies.

The system vendor should maintain regular communication with the client on the progress of the project. The relevant authorities from the client’s end should make sure the supplier adherers to the exact requirements of the project which includes user training, contingency plans and costs involved.

The client as well as the vendor of the system should assign suitable professionals for the selected tasks. Client should monitor the vendor activities and should reserve the right to carry out adhoc audits during the project life time. From the vendors’ point of view, the integrity of the IT professionals should be carefully identified and employed them according to their competencies.


Active involvement of the Senior managers of the organization. Further, the involvement of the selected staff members who would be handling the system should be given exposure to the project from the initial stage in order to gain extensive knowledge on the system ahead of the training sessions.


BBC news, “Computer breakdown disrupts flight”, 2002, cited 23 March, 2009, available from:

Coley Consulting “Why Project Fail”, nd, cited 15 March, 2009; available from:

Duquenoy P., “Ethical, Legal and professional issues in Computing”, Cangage learning EMEA, 2007, p 180

Failure Causes, The Chaos report, 1995; Bull survey, 1998; cited 18 March, 2009, available from:

Failure examples of IT projects, nd, cited 20 March, 2009, available from:

Hardware: Article: “NAT’s chief’s truly awful week end with more delays”, 2002, cited 22 March, 2009, available from:

Henderson P.,, “Why Large IT Projects fail”, 2006

Kirshbaum D., “Introduction to Complex Systems”, 2002, cited 15 March, 2009, available from:

Krigsman M., “IT project Failures”, 2008, cited 20 March, 2009, available from:

Milmo D., “Major delays at airports after computer failure”, 2008, cited 24 March, 2009, available from:

NATS centre, “London area control centre”, nd, cited 22 March, 2009, available from:

Symonds T., “Swanswick problems hit passengers hard”, BBC news, 2002, cited 23 March, 2009, available from:

Thomson R., “Risk Management”, 2008, cited 20 March, 2009, available from:

Thomson R., “Project Management”, 2008, cited 20 March, 2009, available from:

The Royal Academy of Engineering and The British Computer Society. “The Challenges of Complex IT Projects”, April 2004

The Royal Academy of Engineering and The British Computer Society. “Case Study of Successful Complex IT Projects”, 2006

8. Bibliography

Bocij P., Chffey D., Greasley A., Hickie S., “Business Information Systems: Technology, Development and Management for the e-business”, 2nd edition, Prentice Hall 2003

Lindahl, M. and Rehn, A., “Towards A Theory of Project Failure”, Vol. 2, No. 3, Int. J. Management Concepts and Philosophy (2007)

Remenyi D. “Stop It Project Failures”, Butterworth-Heinemann 1999

Ward J., Peppard J., “Strategic Planning for Information Systems”, 3rd edition, John Wiley and Sons Ltd., 2002