Thursday, November 20, 2014

Auckland Council's big IT blowout

The biggest headline in today's NZ Herald reads $100m over budget and a year late: Auckland Council's big IT blowout:
An Auckland Council IT project considered key to delivering the promised savings of the "Super City" model faces a budget blowout of up to $100 million.
The "Super City" began operating on 1 November 2010 when the functions of the previous regional council and the region's seven city and district councils transitioned into one, as recommended by the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, which believed that costs savings, service efficiency, and improved governance would ensue. The Royal Commission had assessed the overall costs of the transition "to range in total between $120 million and $240 million over a four-year implementation time frame."

So the Herald's report that the total cost for the IT component alone "could end up between $140 and $170 million" is an unwelcome surprise to Councillors:
Councillor Cameron Brewer said Auckland ratepayers had heard nothing about this "massive project" for exactly two years when councillors approved $71 million.
"Everything has been behind closed doors since which is a real worry.
"I don't accept that escalating costs relating to this key IT project cannot be publicised, nor any of the issues publicly discussed," said Mr Brewer.
"We're told it's all to remain in secret because of commercial sensitivities, but this is a stack of public money. What's more, this whole project has been deemed a significant transformational project for Auckland Council and the way it services the region."
But it should not have been a surprise. Four years ago, Computerworld reported: "Sources within the council say the implementation approach has changed significantly over the past year, from a minimalist top-layer integration approach to an extensive project, involving high use of external consultants."

A comment I posted at the time on the Computerworld article bears repeating:
The Royal Commission recommended that the transition should establish the groundwork for a transformation in working practices and culture for the Auckland Council and service delivery will change following the development and adoption of consistent and integrated service strategy and progressive integration of systems.

So where is the integrated service strategy? What happened to progressive integration of systems? Where is the direction and control to hold the CEO accountable for ensuring project success - as measured by the customer receiving efficient, effective and integrated service and not by technology installed on time and on budget?

Selecting an application before establishing the target architecture for end-to-end customer serving processes and related information results in IT driving the transformation - the tail wagging the dog - one of the key reasons transformations involving IT fail.

It is ironic that the justification for the super city was improved governance but I just haven't seen it.
I still haven't seen it. There is no excuse. The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) has in the past provided council CEOs with guidelines on Governance and Oversight of Large IT Projects, noting "lessons learned are not shared, and the same mistakes recur from project to project and from entity to entity."

Friday, August 31, 2012

Deming Revisited

In 1999, the Los Angeles Times business staff compiled a list of the 50 people or groups who most influenced business in the 20th century. Douglas MacArthur and W. Edwards Deming were featured for their role in helping Japan recover from its post-war devastation: “the world's greatest economic recovery story.”

Deming lamented American management's failure to understand the transformation that made their Japanese counterparts successful. American leaders are quick to adopt the tools and solutions - the technology and methodologies - but they missed the point that the change starts with them; the transformation is up and down the management hierarchy.
"A transformation must take place in American industry or it will continue on the decline until the style of American management changes...and they don't know what to do. 98% don't know there is a problem or there is anything they can do."
Deming was right.

Managers must first understand the problem, which Deming described as the Five Deadly Diseases of American management:
  1. Lack of constancy of purpose – "People haven’t decided what they’re in business for." It leads to short-term thinking; a lack of long-term definition and goals.
  2. Emphasis on short-term profits – a focus on the quarterly dividend and the price of the company stock over plans to stay in or grow the business through improvement in quality of product or service.
  3. System of annual rating of performance - Performance appraisals, management by objectives, etc, a focus on short-term performance demoralizes employees, undermines team-work, and "annihilates long-term plans."
  4. Mobility of management – People need roots in the company to have knowledge of its problems, of production, of sales, of service. “People in management today know nothing about the problems of anybody else; and don’t even know their own.”
  5. Use of visible figures only for management – Little consideration is given to measures that are unknown and unknowable, e.g. the multiplying effect of unhappy customers.
“People are misused, abused and underused by management that worships a sacred cow style of management that was never right.” - W. Edwards Deming

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Every CEO Should Know and Do about IT

A leading researcher, Prof. Joe Peppard, has collaborated with the internationally renowned consultant and author John Thorp to publish a very good article, What Every CEO Should Know and Do about IT.
Their research reveals that, while most investment in IT failed to deliver expected value, CEOs still haven't properly understood their own role in effecting the realization of benefits even when they see IT as core to their 'real' business. Organisations with CEOs who do 'get it' generate superior returns from their IT investments. Those that don't, after rounding up the usual suspects, go on to keep repeating the same mistakes.

Indeed most CEOs have no idea about what is going on and what to do about it; they just want someone to sort out their IT. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is sometimes empowered - whatever that means - to get on with it, but they can only change what they can control; and that is the delivery of IT not how IT will be used - that is properly the responsibility of business managers.

One unsurprising finding is that executives at all levels are unsure what a CIO is and what to expect of them. What is astounding is that 64% of CIO's have a significantly different perception than the CEO and their CxO colleagues of the CIO role.

The article lists a number of principles of value creation (Box 1), that are all important, but I would add one more, that I believe to be the most critical:
Until CEOs understand the need and accept accountability for clearly articulating the roles, authorities and accountabilities of their managers for business appropriate supply and use of IT and the realization of benefits, it ain't gonna happen.
The article usefully restates how to go about applying these principles. It is not as intimidating as it seems: the CIO can be accountable for facilitating the process so long as it is recognized they do not have the authority nor accountability to lock in the changes needed in the system of business to bring about the expected outcomes. Only a role with overall authority and accountability across the business - the CEO or maybe the COO - can do this and hold managers accountable.

Update 2/8/12:
Broken link changed to now refer to an original blog post by Prof. Peppard; this contains instructions for accessing the article.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Guidance on the Role of a Governing Body

Good governance of IT projects alone would increase GDP in Australia by 1.6% and excellent governance would increase GDP by 3.1%! – Dr Raymond Young, Assistant Professor at University of Canberra
Mark Toomey, who represented the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and worked with Dr Young on the Standards Australia committee that developed the world's first jargon-free standard for effective corporate governance of the use of IT (AS 8015), and co-authored and edited the largely unchanged successor to that standard, ISO/IEC 38500, observed:
"Organizations that consistently have trouble with IT also consistently behave poorly when evaluated through the lens of ISO/IEC 38500. Examination of many IT problems, with both projects and operations shows that in every case, at least one and often, several of the principles has been violated." - Mark Toomey, in Waltzing with the Elephant
Mark has published the results of a recent international survey and provided additional commentary in his April newsletter:
  • Only 37% of boards have effective oversight of the use of IT
  • Only 27% of boards have the necessary skills and knowledge to provide that oversight
  • Only in 38% of firms do executive management have the requisite skills and knowledge to keep control over the use of IT
  • Only in 25% of firms are executives seen as having a good understanding of the costs, risks, opportunities and value associated with its portfolio of IT assets
"The survey results point to considerable gaps in the ability of boards to provide appropriate oversight of IT, compounded by corresponding weakness in executive management’s capability to set appropriate direction, control and monitor the IT agenda."
Lest we think it is just IT that organizations have problems with, I’m reminded of John Kotter's research that revealed only 30% of organizational change programmes succeed. Despite the thousands of books and courses dedicated to managing change since Kotter’s work, a 2008 survey by McKinsey found that still only one transformation in three succeeds.

These are perennial governance and leadership issues and boards of directors have a responsibility to properly address them. Being only 15 pages of jargon-free guidance for boards and executives, putting the ISO/IEC 38500 standard for corporate governance of IT in the hands of every serious director is not a bad way to start.