The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has published its Five Year Plan for 2012 to 2017. RPA administer payments to English farmers under the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), including the Single Payment Scheme (SPS), on behave of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). In terms of failed UK public sector “IT Programmes” of the last few years, SPS has received perhaps the greatest criticism, with some of the strongest words ever seen from the National Audit Office (NAO).
I viewed this particular failure first-hand, delivering a number of assignments at RPA between 2005 and 2007. Taking a Systems Thinking view, it demonstrated so clearly to me the importance of the initial architectural design phase – creating a sound base on which to build. With this, even if you make lots of mistakes thereafter, the situation is always recoverable. Without this, the complexities and associated negative consequences just increase exponentially. And the phrase “stop digging” quickly comes to mind.
RPA now have a major opportunity to put things right, with a new version of the CAP due for implementation by January 2014. But they face an enormous challenge, given the legacy they have created for themselves over the last 9 years, at significant cost to the UK tax payer.
Rather worryingly, the RPA Five Year Plan seems to pin a lot of its hopes on outsourcing the IT, business processes or both. It’s difficult to understand why, although it has become a bit of a stock answer in certain quarters.
Given that RPA has limited internal IT capability, outsourcing the IT is probably a bit of a no brainer. The issue here is picking the right supplier.
Far more important is where the business design capability resides and how this shapes, drives and controls the design, implementation and operation of the IT. The choice of application technology will also be crucial, as success will require a highly agile approach. Given the nature of the CAP, changes in business process and rules will need to be easily accommodated – in practice and not just in theory!
In terms of outsourcing the business processes, all or part, well the design principles here are quite simple. If it’s high volume and routine, you might. If it isn’t, then unless someone has a capability that you need and are unlikely to acquire, then you don’t. The only candidates I can see here are initial data capture and land registration.
But far more important than any of these internal considerations is the CAP itself. The current Single Payment Scheme is maddeningly complicated. You could dodge some of the more complex bits and most countries chose to do just that, although England was one of the few that didn’t!
The rules for the new version of the Single Payment Scheme are currently being hotly debated within the EU. The focus should be on ensuring that this time around we have a scheme that is not an operational nightmare to run, whatever the delivery model adopted.