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FCW : August 30, 2014
the money to initiate massive projects. Those funds come from the political bartering that happens among members of the executive and legislative branches. Budgets are allocated largely based on the political capital of agencies and their champions. When cost overruns occur, Congress must agree to pay additional funds to the contractors to complete the work. When the FBI initiated the Virtual Case File phase of its Trilogy IT modernization project in 2000, it was scheduled to take three years and cost $380 million. At the end of 2002, the project was behind schedule and the FBI asked Congress to increase funding by $123 million. Congress obliged partly because of the 2001 terrorist attacks and the resulting political pressures to pay more attention to anti-terrorism efforts. Second, politics is a heavy in uencer of the way projects are carried out. During the development of the HealthCare. gov website and prior to the 2012 presidential election, the White House reportedly asked the agencies involved in the site s development to avoid committing any website or health insurance exchange ideas to paper so that those ideas could not be stolen and used against the Obama administration before the election. That informal direc- tive would prove to be effective in preventing bad news from being leaked, but it also became detrimental to the development of HealthCare.gov because problems were not acknowledged early enough. Third, political cycles create a certain atmosphere of change within the public sector. The speed with which political leaders and their focus change can be damaging to projects that last years longer than their champions tenure at the agency. That makes it dif cult to maintain governance of a project throughout its full life cycle. For instance, in 2013, California suspended work on its $200 million MyCalPays system, which was designed to mod- ernize the state s payroll. The project s failure was largely attributed to chronic leadership turnover and lapses in due diligence. Finally, public-sector managers are often forced to nd ways to cope with political dysfunction. Constant parti- san clashes and disruptive behavior by politicians force agencies into precarious positions because most of the time, it s more about politics than policy. Recent oversight hearings about HHS role in the HealthCare.gov rollout and the IRS review of tax-exempt groups are arguably designed to bring attention to problems for political gain rather than to resolve them. After all, the HealthCare.gov fumble was not the rst of its kind, and the project was salvaged soon after its launch. Other projects in recent history have not been so lucky, yet they drew a fraction of the oversight. Political factors also play a large role in the governance of petascale IT projects. Governance issues are so varied and wide-ranging that nding an appropriate mix is a sig- ni cant challenge. With proper governance, staff and stake- holders can discharge their duties in a way that allows the organization to function ef ciently and effectively. Without it, the organization and the project suffer, and the result- ing loss of funds and technological failures are physical manifestations of the lack of governance. What can be done? Strong governance of complex, petascale projects is critical for the success of IT projects. We offer ve recommenda- tions for CIOs to consider: 1. Overestimate the cost and time required to complete the project by a factor of at least three. 2. Document, document and document the risks inher- ent in the project and ensure that they are communicated clearly and frequently. Also make sure that the press knows that you called attention to those risks even if the political apparatus chose to ignore them. 3. If at all possible, convince political players to scale down the effort and consider an option-based approach that involves funding each stage of the project with a clause to continue funding if results are achieved and the project is still valuable. 4. Limit the number of petascale IT projects that your agency is involved in or has to support at any given time. 5. Study the lessons learned and postmortem reports from numerous other petascale IT projects as part of your due diligence. The truth about IT megaprojects is that although some are successful, many are failures. Those failures have been repeated over and over, which leads us to the rather obvious conclusion that a new approach must be taken. Although most public managers cannot do anything about the dys- functional political climate, they can make efforts to not fall victim to the dysfunction. The rapidly changing tech- nological and political landscape reminds us that there is constant pressure to stay alert and ready to conquer the IT challenges that lie ahead. We would like to hear from you about governance chal- lenges associated with petascale IT projects that you have encountered. What did they look like up close? As we learn more through our research, we will share our ndings here in FCW. If you are interested in partici- pating in our research project, get in touch via Twitter (@KevDesouza) or KevinDesouza.net. ■ Kevin C. Desouza is associate dean for research in the College of Public Programs, and Kendra L. Smith is a doctoral candidate in the college's School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University. August 30, 2014 FCW.COM 21
September 15, 2014
August 15, 2014