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How can a website cost £35 million? You’d better ask the government

July 5, 2010

[tweetmeme source= ‘matt_parsons’ only_single=false]

Came across a very interesting spreadsheet (above) earlier today, posted on to Twitter by journalist Peter Moore.

It outlines how much the government has spent on certain websites. One in particular caught my eye – businesslink.gov.uk (below).

Now, I’m hoping there’s a typo here, but total costs came to £35 million. Testing and evaluation were just under £4.5m. And so on.

Now, I have no idea where this came from, or if it’s real, so if anyone knows anymore about it, please leave a comment. There’s little information on the Google Doc itself, but maybe this is part of the new government’s transparency initiatives?

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2010 9:21 am

    The primary reason is, such projects aren’t evaluated on the basis of how much they should cost, but on the basis of how much should be spent.

    The £35m figure was probably allocated long before the scope of the website was set. Multiply this by the consultants hired to do the project (guaranteed there were consultants) and you get a hyper-inflated cost for what is basically some kind of CMS customisation job. Because there is so much money being paid, they end up having to reinvent the wheel by mandate. Of course, typically the kind of programmers that work on such projects are not the efficient kind, which balloons the costs even further.

    Someone once said, “work inflates to fill the allocated time.” The same is true of budget. Allocate £35m to a CMS customisation, and you can easily find people to do the job for £35m.

  2. July 6, 2010 9:25 am

    Hi Matt,

    I can’t tell you that the spreadsheet is accurate or even to be trusted, only that it arrived from a good source yesterday, by which time it was being viewed by around 1,000 people.

    Do the numbers seem accurate? Well, perhaps someone who has worked on public sector or big business websites will be able to tell. To me they just seem extraordinary. If there’s savings like this to be had – then I don’t think this deficit is something to be worrying about.

  3. anon permalink
    July 6, 2010 10:15 am

    Ignoring the cost question for the moment, the Business Link website is exceedingly good – lots of well written concise information. Definitely one of the best, if not the best, government website.

    Back to the cost question though: 35 MILLION – WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?!

  4. July 6, 2010 10:56 am

    I’ve quoted for and worked on some government funded sites over the last few years. I can tell you that our honest, sane quotes (for custom built sites based on our own framework) have come in vastly below any of our competitors.

    We’ve also been called in to rescue projects that shall remain nameless, however I found myself in a situation where the original developers had done nothing at all for their inflated price (in fact didn’t know how to do the job they had won). They bizarrely got away with being paid for a lot of it, despite having done nothing at all. There is a huge amount of money wasted, vast sums, so these figures would not surprise me at all. There are also plenty of projects that never get launched because of internal changes. and so work is just thrown away.

    Three things need to be done in my view. Firstly the departments commissioning these sites need to get organised, they need to establish someone who is running the project and has sign off. A lot of the time these projects are a nightmare and cost more than they should due to too many people having a say, and the goalposts being constantly changed. Once all the requirements have been gathered and decisions there should be a single point of contact on the client side who controls things.

    Secondly, departments need to be more open to working with smaller companies, rather than going to the same big agencies who will roll out the same (often not very good) work, and charge a fortune for consultancy. A high profile project will be very important to a smaller company, and they are more likely to really do a great and cost effective job.

    Thirdly, it would be good to see some proper advice being taken when hiring companies for this kind of work. Not from expensive consultants, but by bringing in expert help at the tender/pitch process. A small panel of experts for a couple of days wouldn’t cost a fortune but could save a lot of money in the long run by weeding out the cowboys and the people who are charging what they think they will get away with.

  5. July 6, 2010 11:02 am

    Because you’ve never heard of the failed project Italia.it which was developed by IBM and costed 45.000.000 euros.

  6. July 6, 2010 1:57 pm

    I think the information comes from here: http://coi.gov.uk/websitemetricsdata/websitemetrics2009-10.pdf – i.e from official government figures

  7. arroico permalink
    July 6, 2010 2:02 pm

    I can tell you that it is not like throwing some html and some css together. As a player in the field, I know that the site was probably worth £35m. If you think you can do better, then go to the public auction for the contract and prove it.

  8. Fernandos permalink
    July 6, 2010 2:32 pm

    We might be lucky that the government is not fast and effcient. Really. Who knows what they’d do if they were fast+effcient 😉

    It’s obvious that information flow is not fluent in the government. People who think they can solve that, “think different”, which means they solve shit, but not the obvious problem.

    Real complexity as the organizational structure of how policy applies to information in a predefined flow direction, cannot be solved by just spending millions of dollars. There’s a need for real heads who solve complexity in a way that their solutions appears natural and simple.

    If I learned something, then it is that simplicity is the mother of complexity.

    *DARPA is going to jump in here probably..*

  9. Matt Carey permalink
    July 6, 2010 5:44 pm

    @arroico You are having a laugh!

    Of course it is not just throwing together some html and css. Yes, there is planning, design, build, evaluation and testing. But even with all that, there is no way that site should cost £35m.

    Lets say, for the sake of argument, that the site cost £5m. That would be a lot but I could understand why, and the largest % would be on content. Keeping on top of the latest business information and putting it on the site in a coherent manner would take time and resources. But 7 times that much? madness and money down the drain.

    I think @Daniel is correct when he talks about allocated budget. I bet the £35m was set aside a long time ago. It was allocated and had to be spent. Though why boggles me. Come in under budget, it is allowed for goodness sake!

    • Miikka permalink
      July 7, 2010 4:31 am

      @Matt

      Actually it may not be allowed. The budget is a funny thing. If you come under it once, it’s then always assumed that you’ll pad your budgets and thus you’re allocated less.

  10. December 21, 2010 12:07 am

    “Testing and evaluation were just under ?4.5m. And so on.”
    Something I doubt …

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