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Want To Avoid The Next Novopay? Read This Book.

Webstruxure is a small company – seven staff members (and steadily growing…). So how come we’ve got Government departments among our clients? Don’t public sector IT projects always go to the big players?

The answer is that all too often, they do. And that isn’t just bad news for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in the IT field. It’s bad news for the Government, and therefore for taxpayers, as well.

To find out why, it’s time to take a trip to the dark side. It’s time to read Dangerous Enthusiasms.

Robin Gauld and Shaun Goldfinch did the world a favour when they wrote this 2006 study of how and why large Government IT projects often fail, or if they don’t fail, cost much more and take much longer than intended. They focus on two projects that failed – the Police INCIS system and Health Waikato’s installation of software package SMS – and one that came in well over time and budget, Land Information New Zealand’s Landonline.

Every failed IT project is different, but Gauld and Goldfinch identify some common factors:

  • Government managers’ inflated expectations of what the project will do
  • Vendors’ inflated promises about system performance and delivery
  • Long lead times that make the technology obsolete by the time it’s installed
  • Staff resistance to the changes the project will bring about – especially when they have never been asked for their advice on the project or its impact on their work
  • Reporting designed to reassure superiors that all is well, rather than raise the alarm about projects in trouble.

The difficulties Gauld and Goldfinch identify are hard to avoid in large projects. At Webstruxure, we believe that many of these problems can be avoided by breaking these projects into smaller, more manageable chunks, and using small vendors who have much more capacity to be flexible, responsive, and focused on the user experience. (Like us!)

2013 note: Many of the failure factors that Gauld and Goldfinch identify are sadly familiar from the Novopay saga. What’s more, as long as the best short-term option for vendors, officials and Ministers is to pretend everything is just fine rather than admit to problems and set about fixing them, and as long as Government departments believe that big is best when it comes to software solutions, there are likely to be more Novopays ahead.

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