17 Apr Technology audit rips poor planning and oversight
Madison, Wis. – Problematic state information technology projects largely are the result of inadequate planning, a lack of oversight, and inadequate collaboration between the Department of Administration and executive branch agencies, according to a long-awaited report from the state Legislative Audit Bureau.
The audit report, which was a full year in the making, was ordered after concerns were raised about large information technology projects in several state agencies, including the Departments of Transportation and Revenue, and the University of Wisconsin System.
The Audit Bureau identified 184 information technology projects that state agencies have begun or completed between 2004 and 2006 – projects that currently are expected to cost a total of $291.7 million. The Bureau said most problems occur in planning for complex, high-risk projects, and the report made several recommendations to improve project planning, monitoring, and oversight.
“It constantly amazes me how we could blow that much money and not put in place mechanisms to prevent it from happening,” said State Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
The audit review focused on software customization and development projects of executive branch agencies and the DOA’s efforts to consolidate the state’s IT resources.
In particular, six on-going projects have experienced difficulties and delays, with a combined cost of $122.7 million at completion. A seventh project, the Department of Workforce Development’s customization of software for its Enhanced Automated Benefits and Legal Enterprise System (EnABLES), was suspended in February of 2007 after five years and a cost of $23.6 million.
One of the downfalls cited in the report is a failing to adequately define a project’s final functions. For example, the DWD failed to identify the functions that would be included in the state Unemployment Insurance Tax Enterprise System (SUITES), a project that is four years behind schedule and $18.7 million over budget.
Also among the failings cited in the report is the underestimating of project complexity. The report said a Department of Revenue contractor underestimated the complexity of adapting the sales and use tax software component of the department’s Integrated Tax System. As a result, significant programming errors ensued, increasing costs by $5.7 million and comprising the accuracy of sales and use tax distributions to counties and professional sports districts.
The audit report also said two of the three DOA projects that involve statewide consolidation of IT resources – the consolidation of server hardware and software and e-mail consolidation – have been hindered by poor planning. A third consolidation project, the Integrated Business Information System, benefited from early planning efforts, but revisions in the project’s anticipated costs and benefits will require close monitoring.
The report noted that DOA has broad responsibility to monitor and control the IT projects of executive branch agencies, and that responsibility includes the establishment of performance measures for evaluating progress. However, because the department’s management efforts have focused on is own troubled e-mail and server consolidation projects, its role in collaborating with agencies on large, high-risk projects has been inadequate.
The report recommended agencies to report by Oct. 1, 2007 to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on seven of the large, high-risk projects the Audit Bureau reviewed. In addition, it recommended that DOA report to the committee on its own progress in selecting a prescribed format for agencies’ annual strategic plans for IT and a methodology for identifying high-risk programs.
Another recommendation for the DOA is to report on progress toward establishing planning standards for large, high-risk projects, enhancing project monitoring, and establishing policies for the use and monitoring of the state’s master lease program to fund IT system costs.
“The DOA has to be the point agency on this,” Cowles said. “They are entrusted with managing these systems.”
Legislatively, the report also recommends reactivating the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology and the IT Management Board. Cowles, who last month expressed hope that the report would include recommendations for the Legislature, offered support for the Audit Bureau’s legislative recommendations.
Cowles also said that he would be very cautious about authorizing additional requested funds, including $35 million more for a new data center that is behind schedule. He said both the Legislature and the Doyle Administration have become enamored with information technology projects, and probably had too much going on at once.
“This [information technology] is a big part of our budget, suddenly, and we need to pay more attention to it,” he said.
State Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, chairman of the Assembly Speaker’s IT Projects Task Force, said the task force would carefully consider the Audit Bureau’s suggestions to reactivate the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology and the IT Management Board, as well as require more frequent reporting during “all IT implementation projects.”
Some agencies already have drawn lessons from their failures. The University of Wisconsin System, which spent $26 million before abandoning a project involving the implementation of appointment, payroll, and benefits software by Lawson, is among those that already have taken corrective steps.
Ed Meachen, associate vice president of learning and information technology for the UW System, has said the Lawson debacle was due in part to a lack of communication between an executive steering committee and the system’s executive leadership. On large projects, he said the system now will engage executive leadership across the system, as well as a subset of the UW Board of Regents.
Meachen also said the system has directed a Common Systems Group to monitor the spend rate on projects, and it now mandates project management experience or certification on large IT endeavors.
“This incredible disaster got us to think through the executive leadership role in this, so we will not forget that one,” he told WTN late in 2006, “and I think all the literature on implementing these enterprise systems talks about that.”
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