• BreEZe: What’s the Real Reason Failing IT Projects Are Allowed to Continue?

    March 24th, 2015 by admin Categories: Blogs Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

    The State Auditor came out last week with a scathing new report which according to this Sacbee headline, “Blasts State Tech System”, and follows the Auditor’s report from last month on the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ BreEZe System, both of which take the state’s Department of Technology (CalTech) to task over arguably its most critical role – oversight of state IT projects.

    The latest reports in addition to the usual deficiencies pointed out in previous reports involving management of IT projects such as state IT staffing struggles, and conflicting responsibilities, the Auditor sited different problems that may appear rather curious to most of us, i.e., what should be done about failing projects, and how to recognize them in the first place.

    Auditor Howle found that CalTech had no formal process for dealing with struggling projects, and in addition, without criteria to evaluate problems, deploying departments did not know their projects were actually failing…

    Puh-leeze…

    Now I am at the head of the line when it comes to appreciating the tremendous work of the State Auditor, especially when it comes to its investigation of state IT.

    And again, I thought the analyses in these new reports were spot on. It’s just these overall conclusions that I found disconcerting, and that I will explain in reverse order.

    Deploying departments are required to provide monthly project status reports using a template with simple, straight forward metrics in plain English. Thanks to transparency, the reports are even available on CalTech’s web site. These metrics include:

    •       Were recent milestones completed on schedule?
    •       Were any scheduled tasks not started?
    •       Are there any new major issues?
    •       Is Cost-to-Date vs. Estimated Cost-to-Date (higher)?

    The tracking report for BreEZe on page 9 for December 2014 (the last one provided) shows the project with 12 milestones. Only three are completed and all the other nine are DELAYED stretching from January of 2015 through June of 2016. And the project’s budget has grown from an initial $27 million to almost $100 million, and system functionally at this inflated price now will involve only half of the intended state licensing boards. And finally the Auditor has recommended suspending the project for a top to bottom review.

    But here’s a screen shot from the state’s web site for IT Project Tracking downloaded over last weekend.

     CalTech IT-project-oversight-logo

    IT Project Tracking

    Approved State Information Technology Projects Under Construction as of March 20, 2015

    Sort by clicking column headers. Note: The Score Card Ratings included in this report are provided by the department.

    Department

    Project Name

    Total Project Cost

    Criticality Rating

    Complexity Zone

    Current Score Card Rating

    Consumer Affairs

       BreEZe

    $95,465,164

    High

    IV

    Green

    Note the Score Card Rating provided by the department on the bottom right. GREEN. Not even YELLOW, let alone RED???

    These tracking reports while originally prepared by the deploying department are reviewed and approved by CalTech.

    Coleridge called it a “willing suspension of disbelief” whereby if a writer could craft a fictional work with at least a semblance of truth, into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the actual narrative.

    If the deploying department completes the project status report accurately, verified by the CalTech, there is no question as to the project’s status, and no excuse as to whether a project is struggling, regardless of whether there is a suspicious scorecard rating.

    I will invite our readers to read BreEZe’s tracking report and form their own opinion, but I guarantee that all would agree that it would take deliberate suspension of disbelief for anyone or any state department to think this project deserved a GREEN score. It’s failing…

    The Auditor’s other conclusion that CalTech had no formal process for dealing with struggling projects is similarly weak. We will grant the Auditor the point that CalTech should certainly tighten up its oversight processes to rigorously enforce department’s compliance with CalTech project directives. However, once status is determined to be sub-par, CalTech has broad powers to deal with this including imposing greater oversight, requiring project management changes, holding up funding, sending the vendor notification of potential default, up to and including terminating the project and cancelling the vendor’s contract as a last resort.

    And unfortunately, this last resort may be the only alternative when earlier attempts at corrective action are not enforced. As the Auditor points out “CalTech in its oversight role raised nearly 180 significant and persistent concerns about the BreEZe project in monthly reports between December 2010 and September 2014 in areas including project management, staffing, system requirements, and vendor performance, it allowed the project to continue without significant intervention. We believe the volume and significance of these concerns should have prompted both CalTech and Consumer Affairs to analyze fully the costs and benefits of suspending or terminating the project versus proceeding.”

    The question is “Why was no action taken”.

    Perhaps it’s not the process that is flawed. It could be CalTech’s enforcement of the process and the fact that the deploying departments, and not the oversight authority CalTech, are allowed to record the project’s status. Or perhaps it’s because the State CIO’s Office has lost its clout since this Administration downgraded it from a Cabinet Agency.

    However, we keep coming back to the same question, “Why given serious warning signs evident to everyone involved was the project allowed to continue?”

    The answer is simple.

    There is pressure on the oversight authorities including the deploying department’s Agency and on CalTech to ignore their own findings, to look the other way, to approve additional funding, to keep the project team and the vendor working, to allow incompetent project managers to not only go unpunished but to be promoted, and to continue the project, even in the face of impending project debacle.

    But just who is applying this pressure?

    Here’s a hint: Who has the power to apply such pressure?

    To be continued…

    1. Anonymous says:

      Even if you do not find the facts to back up the allegations about insider influence from the governor’s office, the conclusions are obvious, there is actually not a single excuse that holds water for why the BreeZe Project was not at least temporarily suspended some time ago for its flaws along with a lot of other projects that have gone the same way, or those that are still in place today like the CAMMIS Project which is even more of an embarrassment than 22nd Century and FisCal

      • Anonymous says:

        And in case you did not get the pun the reason its called the 22nd Century Project is because based on the past It will take them that long to get it finished!!!!! And yes we know its Fi$Cal

    2. Anonymous says:

      Bravo! Finally someone is asking the right question. If this were Jeopardy, I’d choose “Department Executives” for $400.

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