27 May 2013

Last week State Services Commission published an update on the Gateway Review Process. This is the methodology intended to provide assurance to Government that agencies are managing high risk projects successfully. Project failures have a marked impact on public trust and confidence in government. Reactions to Novopay inadequacies make that clear.

The process description is as follows: “…Gateway reviews are conducted by independent experts (private and public sector). At each ‘gate’ the project or programme owner requests a review. SSC sends in a hand-picked team of reviewers to provide peer review support to the project team. The review team spends a week interviewing all major stakeholders and analysing available documentation. At the end of the week they write a short report with recommendations for the project owner.” It costs $75,000 for each review.

A Gateway Bulletin a year ago indicated that 52 projects had been reviewed for 25 agencies.  There is no indication of the extent to which any stages of the Novopay scheme for SBOT employees (which began before SSC introduced the Gateway review process) may have been reviewed

What is intriguing is that the methodology was developed in 2001 by the UK Office of Government Commerce and refined by both the Victorian State and Australian Federal governments before adapted for State Services use in 2007.  But just this week a major UK project has been abandoned – suggesting that relying on a Gateway review may be unwise (assuming there was a Gateway type review.)

The BBC has abandoned an IT project designed to make archived material readily available for news screening.  The Digital Media Initiative, apparently known within the BBC as the “axis of awful” reflects the well-trodden path of failed IT projects. An over ambitious scheme was talked up by the provider (in this case Siemens, who were then given the job without an open tender). Siemens were dropped from the $150 million contract after several unproductive years of development. The job was then managed in-house by the BBC chief of technology (who spent a further $50 million without producing the intended outcome (meanwhile earning a substantial bonus despite the BBC board having directed that the Corporation would no longer pay bonuses).

The findings of investigations by PriceWaterhouse and the National Audit Office are unlikely to compliment the BBC on its project management!

The project seems to have the characteristics of most IT developments.  They are innovative, expensive, and leading edge, but produce nothing until the project is completed. Implementation problems mean that unless additional funding is committed there is no result.  As too often occurs, IT project sponsors must then decide whether problems indicate something fundamental. Will spending more provide the solution, or will it be a matter of throwing good money after bad?

An observation by the BBC Operations Director now closing down the project seems somewhat naïve; “…The lesson isn’t that the BBC shouldn’t be bold and ambitious in charting new territory. The lesson is that we must put in place the right steps to ensure our major infrastructure projects deliver…”

That is what a Gateway review is intended to achieve.