Study: Majority of government IT projects go wrong

November 13, 2013

The issues around have cost taxpayers about $196 million and that number is expected to soar based on repairs that must occur to reduce the system's glitches. Although a change of data processes have become more common in recent years, the public sector continues to hit roadblocks while implementing these solutions.

Problems ranging from delayed payments to injured workers in Pennsylvania to California's failed attempt to modernize the state's payroll system—costing the Golden State $254 million—this happens more often than general public would like, the Boston Globe reported. A study from the Standish Group, an organization that oversees IT development projects, found that the success rate of government's digital initiatives is 39 percent.

What does the Group define as a successful project? They have to be "delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions," the report stated. When it comes to plans that cost $10 million or more, the success rate plummets to 10 percent.

Why does this seem to be the case? Globe contributor Melissa Threadgill explains that when governments sign a contract to build anything, funding comes from a capital budget. Set in stone, contractors who are responsible for these projects have to follow a close plan. Once it is completed, it is likely that the technology is "already years out of date."

"[S]tate government doesn't have enough managers with the technical expertise to craft and manage these contracts properly," she writes. "We end up buying features we don't need, and we lack the flexibility to learn as we go."

Research from the Standish Group agrees, finding that governments think too broad and act accordingly. On the other hand, businesses that have a "think big, act small approach," implementing portions of program have found much more success. This strategy allows flexibility to change based on the needs of the organization and its users.

Going back to the California example, although the project was narrowed down to improve payroll, this territory is one of the most populous states in the nation. Instead of creating a broad program, they could have installed portions of a database management service at a time, ensuring a smoother transition.

A fragmented project is more likely to fail than one that is slowly rolled out, this is why switching records management strategies do not occur overnight. However, once the switch is complete, a majority of the glitches were already made during the earlier phases. 

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