The Department for Work and Pensions(DWP) Universal Credit Programme is the largest overhaul of benefits in the UK for a generation. DWP is on its third CIO in a year following the sad loss of Philip Langsdale.The Universal Credit project has been described by some politicians, political and technology commentators as another public sector IT disaster in waiting.\nOn February 19th David Pitchford, chief executive of the Major Projects Authority, was announced as being brought in for three months to supervise Universal Credit. The Major Projects Authority was formed to improve the delivery of central government projects.\nDescribed by DWP as \u201ca single payment for people who are looking for work or on a low income,\u201d the Universal Credit Programme is claimed to simplify the benefits system, improve work incentives and reduce fraud and error. Universal Credit will replace income-based Jobseeker\u2019s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Income Support; Child Tax Credits; Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.\nIn December 2012 Philip Langsdale, DWP CIO since late 2012 passed away in what a series of commentators have said is a serious loss to Whitehall and the Universal Credit Programme. On February 6th Government CIO Andy Nelson was announced as the new DWP CIO.\nPermanent Secretary for Work and Pensions Robert Devereux confirmed at the appointment of Nelson that he would be responsible for the \u201cimminent start of Universal Credit, the Personal Independence Payment and the Benefit Cap\u201d.\nIn 2011 the Universal Credit Programme became headline news when an Intellect report, commissioned by DWP and leaked to the Observer newspaper, reported that IT suppliers to DWP felt that the project deadlines were too ambitious and feared of a lack of practical testing of alternative prototypes.\nJoe Harley, DWP CIO until spring 2012 agreed with the Public Accounts Committee in March 2011 that the Universal Credit Programme was the most complicated IT programme the department had undertaken, but said the civil service had learned from the large IT failures of the past.\nThe latest Programme Director is Hilary Reynolds, who is now preparing for the first use of Universal Credit in April. This testing phase known as the Pathfinder will roll out in\u00a0 Ashton under Lyne, Oldham, Warrington and Wigan.\u00a0 Then there will be six monthly increments of national delivery from October onwards.\nInformation on what the Pathfinder will comprise of is not forthcoming from DWP. However, a recently released letter to Local Authority CEOs states that \u201cfor the majority of local authorities, the impact of UC during the financial year 2013\/14 will be limited\u201d.\nDWP revealed that the Pathfinder will start on the 29th April, and will be only for \u201ca small number of simple Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claims\u201d.\n Analysis from Brian Wernham\nI welcome DWP\u2019s change to a strategy of \u2018prove before we move\u2019 which Hilary Reynolds has adopted. Because the April Pathfinder will only include a limited sub-set of technology that will operate Universal Credit, it will instead focus on the business processes and interactions with claimants. The second phase from 28 October 2013 to 31 March 2014 will roll-out some of the technology on an incremental basis which is \u201cintended to extend the number and type of UC claims across the country.\nThe incremental trial and roll-out using the \u2018prove before we move\u2019 strategy is a step in the right direction. But, Andy Nelson, DWP\u2019s new CIO, must be clear about the purpose of the Pathfinder and be ready to adapt and evolve not just the technology, but also the policy.\nThe Cabinet Office has been pushing the need for more feedback and reaction from public policy trials. A recent paper co-written by academic and author Ben Goldacre, stressed the importance of proving policy in trials before roll-out.\u201cI believe that Government CIOs need to ensure that pilot projects go beyond simply proving the technical robustness of new systems, they need to work with policy colleagues to test different models for implementing new regulations before committing to national roll-out.\nNelson needs to apply the \u2018Pareto\u2019 rule - the team should focus on the 20 per cent of a new system that brings 80 per cent of the policy objective. The challenge for his team is to identify which 20 per cent of the system should be prioritised for roll-out from October.\nGovernment CIOs need to move beyond mere technocratic delivery of product - they need to interact at policy level to optimise value for money (VFM) of policy impact.\nBy becoming more agile, the Universal Credit Programme can become an exemplar of this philosophy.\nAbout Brian Wernham\nBrian Wernham is an IT Strategy Advisor and has provided independent advice to several Central Government CIOs. He was ICT Lead at the NAO, and worked on several VFM audits. His latest book \u201cAgile Project Management for Government\u201d takes an evidence-based look at the claims made for agile approaches to technology projects in governments on both sides of the Atlantic.\n\nJoin the debate:\nHave you been involved in the DWP Universal Credit Programme as an IT supplier or leader and what are your views on the scale, risks and opportunities of this programme, join the debate by contacting CIO UK.