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More than 90% of Gov IT Projects Fail – Eeek!

We don’t have to tell you about the challenges facing public sector IT – and Healthcare.gov was just one of the more visible procurement hurdles. The Public Spend Forum has published a study, “Billions in the Balance: Removing Barriers to Competition and Driving Innovation in Public Sector IT Markets,” – and the survey found that 94% of government IT projects fail.

Raj Sharma, CEO of Censeo Consulting Group and the co-founder of the Center for Innovation and Public Value and Public Spend Forum, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that there are no quick fixes to the government’s procurement challenges.

“Both people within the public sector and industry think one of the key challenges and complexities is the number of stakeholders,” said Sharma. “Getting everyone aligned and incentivized to work towards the same goals is really difficult. Richard Spires, former DHS CIO, said there’s so many stakeholders and all of them, or anyone of them can screw up.”

Syracuse professor David Van Syke agreed. He noted that the multiple stakeholders make public sector procurement a different kind of challenge than its private sector counterparts. “The policy environment, the multiplicity of goals, the unevenness of who has access to what information, as well as the uncertainty about the product and the funding itself make public sector environment more complex than the private sector.”

The second major IT procurement challenge is culture. “You can draw a diagram that traces the risk averse culture and the regulations that are put together that lead to an environment where we put up voluminous requirements, that leave no flexibility for new companies, or companies that already work in the federal government to provide any innovative solutions,” said Sharma. “Everybody is focused on checking the box. “We also created a very slow procurement process because of the risk adverse culture.”

So what are some of the solutions?

So far, we’ve talked about the problems of culture, risk and the slow procurement cycle — difficult problems. But there are some solutions. In their report, Sharma and his team outlined a few ways to combat the difficult world of procurement.

  • Leadership Focus: “We need to make sure there’s a senior executive in charge of procurements that have the authority to make decisions. These leaders can also be held accountable for program results,” said Sharma. “This person must really have the trust of the topmost leadership, that means the secretary of the department, the White House, and others.”
  • Qualified Program Exec: “The second person we recommend is a qualified and empowered program executive. We used program executive, not program manager on purpose, because, it’s really important given the scale of some of these programs, that you really get the senior most person you can that has not just the technical expertise, but more importantly the key management skills to guide programs which is really about communications, management, building relationships,” said Sharma. “This executive also has to have the ability to push back against all the people, all the different stakeholders that we just talked about. They’re going come in and say you know my requirement is most important; my requirement is most important. They can actually push back and say guess what, it doesn’t meet the priorities and the goals that we set.”

What’s Sharma’s big takeaway from looking at government procurement? “The main thing we wanted to do was not propose a major reform bill, and not propose some transformation that will, we know won’t happen. The big takeaway is these recommendations can be done on a program-by-program basis. We can actually create change by creating more examples of success. If we’re going to change a culture, that’s how you do it. It’s not by drafting a bill through congress and putting it out there and hoping somehow all these people will adopt it. Change happens because people take it upon themselves. We definitely need a top down, but we also need to create more success examples.”

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Rod Morgan

You realize, perhaps, this figure has remained at this level since (at least) 1993 when I heard it from Gartner Group? Worse – the crap-tacular products on many vendor shelves do not count; the figure addresses things that weren’t stable enough to put shrink wrap around. Which makes some of us feel like the catcher in “Bull Durham” – if we’re capable of dependable delivery, why don’t we work in a better industry?