A panel of government chief information officers has fingered rigid procurement frameworks for complex IT projects that risk going awry.
CIOs speaking in an exclusive think-tank convened at the CIO Strategy Summit in Melbourne this week blamed a penchant for heavily customised systems for unnecessary costs and project failures.
No specific projects were named; however, notable examples include Queensland Health’s $1.25 billion payroll bungle and Sydney Water’s asset management system deployment that was deemed over-time and over-budget by the NSW Auditor-General in 2009.
IT leaders from a range of state and federal government departments argued that the added costs of customising “commodity” systems could be better spent on addressing road traffic fatalities.
“Commodity is any product that you don’t have to tailor for use – document management, customer relationship management to a degree, complaints management,” one CIO said.
“All of those things you can just buy these days as a service. Why are we that special that we think we need to make our own special version for our own special needs?”
CIOs, participating in the discussion on the condition of anonymity, said it was difficult to change their organisations’ business processes to suit new systems from a technology role.
“We’ve convinced policymakers that they can implement whatever policy they want and we’ve convinced vendors that whatever they sell us, if it’s not adequate, we’ll fix it,” one said.
“What we should say to the industry is, ‘we’re not buying that solution unless it’s configurable’, so they’ll either have a business process engine that sits on top of it, or sell us a product that’s configurable, or go away.”
Panel moderator and Ovum research director Steve Hodgkinson suggested that the issue was best addressed by business executives rather than technologists.
He highlighted NSW Trade and Investment’s ongoing implementation of a hosted SAP platform as “the most innovative public sector ICT project in the world” – one driven by both CIO David Kennedy and his Director-General.
“The Director-General has said: ‘We will procure a standardised, commodity SAP ERP system and install it with configuration and no customisation as a software-as-a-service environment for core financial, HR and procurement processes for nine agencies’,” he explained.
Panellists generally agreed that the cloud delivery model could drive organisations away from customisation.
But some said rigid tender processes prevented them from being able to go to market for commodity IT.
“I’ve got to go to market and I’ve got to evaluate three products … against a really, really detailed set of specifications – that’s what the contract is then based on,” one said.
“Before we go to tender, we have to lock down [specifications]. It does really limit your ability to be flexible in solutions.
“[We need] that ability to not go out with the very detailed ‘this is how it will work’, because then they have to come back with how much it will cost them to customise it to how we would want, as opposed to ‘I want to do vaguely this’, and I get four off-the-shelf packages that I can either take off the shelf or customise.”