Sheffield Council warned to be cautious after multi-million pound technology problems at the University of Sheffield

A councillor has told Sheffield Council’s IT department to beware of technology problems experienced by the University of Sheffield as it embarks on a new £9.3 million project.

Monday, 6th December 2021, 4:01 pm
Updated Monday, 6th December 2021, 4:51 pm

Councillor Joe Otten raised concerns during a recent meeting of the communities and neighbourhoods transitional committee.

The committee was discussing a report on plans to spend £9.3 million up to 2025 on making its housing IT systems more efficient.

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Joe Otten is: Councillor Joe Otten raised concerns about the risks associated with Sheffield Council's new £9.3 million housing IT project following failure of an expensive technology programme at the University of Sheffield.

Council officers said the authority had ‘no choice’ but to replace the system soon, and as part of initial work it found several other systems that will also need to be replaced.

In the report they said it currently has a fragile collection of systems that will become defunct without costly and complicated ‘rewiring’.

The meeting took place less than a month after it was revealed the University of Sheffield spent tens of millions of pounds on a technology project that staff warned from the start would not work.

Coun Otten said: “The university has spent millions of pounds on a system they have ended up largely not using and of course the system was initially promised to deliver benefits of integrating multiple legacy systems and migrating data and so on and for whatever reason it didn’t do that. So clearly these risks still exist.”

He added: “What expertise do we have in the council in terms of managing the client side of a project like this and not making the mistakes the university did?

"They have some smart people at the university, I hear, and they can still make these mistakes.

"I want us to be sure that we know what we are doing in terms of managing this project. What assurance can you give me on that?”

In reply, Beverly Mullooly, head of services, said there are a lot of risks with IT but the council has mitigated these by appointing someone to deal with data migration and talking to other local authorities that have gone through a similar process with varying degrees of success to draw from their experiences.

Who is responsible for the council’s IT project?

Ms Mullooly said there was a project group overseeing the work comprising various members with different expertise.

Coun Otten said: “I’m not saying that’s wrong, that might be the right way to do it but I’m slightly nervous by why what sounds like leadership by committee of this in-house project.

"So I would appeal to someone higher up in the council to say let’s make sure this doesn’t have the risks associated with leadership by committee and that there is clarity, skills and experience in leadership of this.

“Otherwise I do fear that, not because anybody is at fault but, because the nature of the project is that we are taking on a huge amount of risk and if we are looking at spending £9 million and we don’t get our new system…

"I’m going to download the webcast of this and it will have me warning the council that this is going to happen so you have got to get it right.”