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Why ICT Projects Fail

In November 2011 the Ombudsman (withVAGO) published a Report entitled “Own motion investigation into ICT-enabled projects[1]”  In summary five headline themes were identified that cause or significantly contribute to ICT project failure:  These were project:

  1. leadership, accountability and governance
  2. planning
  3. funding
  4. probity and procurement
  5. management.

The Ombudsman’s  Report provides agencies with one set of key actions to allow ICT projects to be delivered successfully.  However this Report (and others such as November 2009 Report “Own motion investigation into the tendering and contracting of information and technology services within Victoria Police[2]”) should be read in conjunction with the State Services Authority Report “Inquiry into the command, management and functions of the senior structure of Victoria Police[3]”.  The SSA Report provides the second set of key actions for agencies to undertake.  This is summarised in the comment “Further there is now an acceptance at Victoria Police of the importance of developing an overarching information management strategy for the organisation prior to embarking on further major IT projects and expenditure…”

To summarise:

  • the Ombudsman (and VAGO) highlight and emphasise the need for effective project management, and the;
  • SSA highlights the need to have a strategy to deliver information management before commencing on any ICT project.

 For those who have been involved in understanding information management or the related public sector information release framework or connecting government this is not a surprise.  If you are interested:

  • Connecting Government: Whole of government responses to Australia’s priority challenges.  Chapter 4 Information management and infrastructure[4].
  • Public Sector Information Release Framework documents[5]

 There are another two approaches to this issue that are worth considering.  Each deserves a separate posting if not a complete essay.

  1. The first is to recognise that managerialism when applied to complex systems will not guarantee success.  In complex “chaos” systems such as large ICT projects, more precision and closer management won’t/can’t lead to a controlled outcome[6].  I refer you to an earlier posting re James Gleick.
  2. The second is to recognise that there is an ongoing political unreality which requires big announcements with silver bullet solutions at minimal cost.  If VicPol had said that to deliver a LEAP replacement would cost $150 million and take five years to deliver and provide only 60% of the desired outcomes, would the project have been approved, even if it was guaranteed to succeed?
David Brown

[6] Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions.  Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.  This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future behavior is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved. In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable.

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