news Victorian Minister for Technology Gordon Rich-Phillips has lambasted the past Labor Government’s “incompetence, mismanagement and waste” in its handling of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) projects in the state.
Rich-Phillips was reacting to Ombudsman George Brouwer’s recently released report that indicts the government for losses to the tune of $1.44 billion, disregard of deadlines, and failure to meet expectations on 10 key IT projects undertaken in the last half-decade. It is estimated that on average the projects were 110 percent over budget, with the original figure of $1.3 billion ballooning to at least $2.74 billion. “On average, project will have more than doubled in cost by the time they are finished,” the report said.
“Taxpayers would be horrified by this report and its finding that more than a billion dollars of their money was wasted because of Labor’s incompetence,” said Rich-Phillips, pointing out that the money could have been used to pay for more schools, child protection workers, police or Bendigo hospitals. “Labor clearly cannot be trusted with taxpayers’ money,” he stated.
The Ombudsman’s report documents the self-initiated investigation of Brouwer and his team after concerns were repeatedly voiced about Victoria’s IT project governance. The ICT projects assessed include the high profile Ultranet, HealthSMART, myki and LEAP database projects, and the less known integrated courts management system and a new integrated housing information program. Brouwer in his report says, “Each of the 10 projects I examined failed to meet expectations; most failed to meet delivery timeframes and all ran over budget.”
Rich-Phillips alleged that the Coalition had frequently raised these issues with the former Government, as had the Ombudsman. “But nothing was done, cementing Labor’s culture of poor leadership, no accountability and a lack of governance,” he said.
Detailing the reasons for their going off the rails the report noted, “None of the projects investigated was well-planned”. It said that the roles of the project leaders were not well defined and that agencies did not give politicians enough information and advice to make informed decisions. “In some cases, optimism bias led to costs and timelines being based upon hope, rather than evidence or comparisons with similar projects and despite advice from experts and vendors,” it stated.
“A lack of leadership, a lack of accountability, a lack of governance, poor planning, inadequate funding, below standard probity controls and under-par project management” were some of the criticisms levelled by the Ombudsman on project agencies.
Rich- Phillips acknowledged that a major cultural overhaul was needed to fix the ICT mess created by Labor. “We accept that change is long overdue and are working through the recommendations of the report,” he said. IT projects would undergo stringent inspection under his Government, with the high-value, high-risk unit within the Treasury already in place for centralised as well as closer scrutiny of major projects. “We will take any necessary steps to end the waste of taxpayers’ money and ensure government ICT projects deliver the benefits that they should,” Rich-Phillips asserted.
Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu supports projects being developed in smaller stages than large initiatives being undertaken all at once. “What we need is to have some performance benchmarks along the way so that we know we’re getting the results that are expected,” Baillieu reportedly said last week.
It’s true that the Ombudsman’s report primarily dealt with the period before December 2010 when Labor was in power in Victoria. However, I haven’t precisely seen a great deal of leadership in the ICT space in the State Government since Baillieu’s Coalition Government took over 12 months ago. And I certainly don’t remember the Coalition raising many of these issues when they were in Opposition. In my opinion, some portions of the blame for Victoria’s IT headaches must also go to the Coalition.
Image credit: NBN Co