Ten reasons why public sector IT projects fail (and why transformation planning is a necessity)

Romy Hughes, director of Brightman discusses the 10 key reasons for project failure and argues that a comprehensive service transition strategy can help the public sector avoid these pitfalls

Both private and public-sector organisations are under constant pressure to save money. This generally means outsourcing business services to a third party, adopting a shared service model, or embarking on an ambitious IT transformation project that will solve every problem ever encountered!

All models bring the promise of reduced costs, but they also have the potential to improve agility, resiliency and flexibility too. But managing the transition to a new service model or IT system can be a critical time which has the potential to make or break the project altogether. Unfortunately, while project failures are not unique to the public sector, it has gained particular notoriety for such high-profile failures, particularly when it comes to IT implementations.

This ‘service transition’ phase – when a new service is brought into live operations – generally brings with it a reduction in the quality and control of services, employee resistance to the change, misunderstood roles and responsibilities, and then the inevitable longer-than-expected transition and spiralling costs (which can sometimes undermine many of the cost savings which drove the project to begin with!).

 

Make or break

There are many factors that can make or break a service transition. While the specific business issues will vary between every organisation and transition, they commonly include many of the following scenarios:

  1. Disagreement between parties: One party may want to commoditise and optimise the service while the other wants services to be personalised to their requirements and integrated with their other services.
  2. Mismatch in expectations: Where services are provided by a number of different suppliers e.g. the service target achievement for component services needs to be coordinated; there will be dependencies that need to be managed to ensure the overall service received meets customer expectations.
  3. Different usage models for the same service: Existing services, which are similar or identical in nature, might be managed and used in different ways and by different teams within the same organisation, resulting in different expectations for the future of the service.
  4. Inflexible contracts with external suppliers: A partnership between suppliers and customers needs to be flexible and open; not all issues can be anticipated at the start of a transition and a good relationship between all parties is crucial to overcoming the hurdles and challenges.
  5. A lack of consideration of the impact on service management functions: A change to services and suppliers will impact on the existing service management functions; this will impact staff and will need careful management.
  6. Maintaining quality and performance: When integrating new or changed services in a multi-vendor environment.
  7. Time management: The effort and time involved moving from a single-sourced supplier to a multi-supplier model can be far greater than anticipated.
  8. Lack of flexibility within the organisation: Changing business models and IT supply models requires everyone in the organisation to be flexible to adapt to new ways of working.
  9. Lack of knowledge transfer: Knowledge transfer is vital for a successful service transition. It is not just technical knowledge that needs to be transferred, it must include information about processes, procedures, tools, governance, infrastructure, security, culture and relationships. Managing the incumbent provider can be difficult – they may not want to provide the information and knowledge and this makes managing the exit strategy crucial. The new service provider will also be unable to provide accurate SLAs and other performance measures if they don’t have complete and coherent understanding of the role of the incumbent.
  10. Individual agendas: Strong beliefs that the current way of doing things is the best and not eager to embrace change; use information flows to their own advantage; managers who don’t communicate with staff or are looking to improve their individual position and not their teams.

As this list demonstrates, an ambitious project can be undermined at any turn.

 

What’s needed to succeed?

A successful and well managed service transition requires a complete business transformation plan which fully accounts for the organisational and cultural changes that the project will inevitably bring to bear. It will establish a strong relationship between the organisation and its service provider(s) and provide clarity of accountability and areas of responsibility.

New business processes will be delivered more seamlessly with a much lower risk to live operations and ongoing service levels will be achieved. Staff will be retained, reskilled and will fully adopt the new ways of working.

The bottom line is this; if you are implementing any form of change to the way your people work – whether it involves a new IT system or not – you cannot do it successfully without a comprehensive service transition strategy. Failure to lay the groundwork and to anticipate how the change will pan out is a sure-fire route to failure. And the public sector has had quite enough of those.

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