Cenitex and project failure

Painful as it is when your team loses, changes of government do have a silver lining; it allows the out-and-out screwups of the last lot to be dealt with.

Cenitex is the agency for the Victorian government’s attempt to centralize much of its IT infrastructure. It’s a reasonable enough idea, but the implementation has been a bit of a disaster.

After several investigations, including by the police’s fraud squad, the board is being restructured and large numbers of contractors are not having their contracts renewed. Meanwhile, Victoria’s bureaucrats suffer on with outdated IT infrastructure.

Corruption, should it be established, is one thing, but it seems that there were other reasons why Cenitex’s attempts to centralize Victoria’s state infrastructure have struggled. The Age has done a pretty good job covering the story, particularly with this piece which examines some of the issues facing Cenitex:

Who is to blame for this standoff? A key player in setting up CenITex, who asked to remain anonymous, feels the board made a mistake appointing Blades, who people found abrasive and did not have the right experience for the job. But the same person also is critical of the government departments involved. “Some department secretaries were, frankly, extremely selfish about the way they went about it. Departments had people employed to do these things; they didn’t want them answering to someone else. Department secretaries, being the beasts they are, would rather control something themselves than give up control to someone else.”

One battle-weary former executive says the CenITex board was indecisive and department chieftains erected roadblocks, creating huge delays in transferring technology to the agency. “There was a fair bit of gamesmanship. They did not give us their best people,” says this source.

A former high-level staffer says CenITex encountered a lot of “passive-aggressive resistance” from departments. The problem was that there was no single powerful figure, such as the Premier, driving the program.

Bingo.

This study of IT project failures lists key “early warning signs” of failure. The single most important predictor of trouble? “Lack of top management support or commitment to the project”.

This was a genuine screwup by the Bracks-Brumby government, if one they largely escaped electoral scrutiny for because it only involved wasting substantial amounts of money and bureaucratic time. But a screwup nonetheless, and a serious one. And the lesson? I doubt either Bracks, Brumby, or any of the other senior ministers in that government got into politics because they were excited about backoffice IT procurement. But whether they like it or not, overseeing their government’s IT procurement and management is an important part of the job of being a minister. And if they don’t want it to blow up in their face, they clearly need to give it more attention, and have people in their office who with the skills and background to assist in that oversight function.

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One Response to Cenitex and project failure

  1. wilful says:

    Meanwhile, we’re still here using IE6! 6! Because they can’t modify oracle or something.

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