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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

We were right: New Portland computer system a disaster

As an alert reader warned us a few months back, the City of Portland's new computer system is fast becoming a financial black hole. Back then, the reader said it was $40 million over budget, which commenter Dave Lister (of all people) denied. In today's O it's reported that the project is $18.5 million over budget, and counting.

And guess what, Portland taxpayers. The city's going to run out into the shaky municipal bond market and borrow another $11.5 million to pour down its technology hole. The City Council will be authorizing the new bonds at its meeting this morning.

This is the city that likes to boast about its administrative and financial competence. And it wants to build a municipal fiber network. Give me a break.

Comments (13)

Multonmah County & many other organizations use SAP enterprise software. Perhaps it's not the best solution, but it is certainly working for many large organizations around the world. I suspect the fly in the ointment is each burueau insisting on "tailoring" to fit thier own particular business model. These installations are usually much less painful when the tailoring is done to the business practices rather than the software itself.

According to lawn signs around town, "vote for Sam He's good for Portland"

As Oliver Hardy said to Stan Laurel "Well here's another fine mess you've gotten me into"

In Dave Lister's defense, he was just being fertilized like any Portland Building mushroom.

Add in the lawyer's fees, lost productivity, plus all the new consultant's fees to get up to speed on the customization completed thus far (think of it as research & development of sunk costs), it will be $40 million over budget before they issue their next press release.

The SAP sales people and consultants are unambiguous: you need to change your business practices and workflow in order to accomodate the SAP software package. Too much customization will diminish the holistic benefits of enterprise software, and raise your future administration costs significantly.

If you want a customized solution, don't buy SAP.

"Rust said there's little city administrators could have done differently."

Performance Bond?

(Not unlike a demand for the same pertaining to expected returns on use of bond proceeds to play in the stock market -- where public employees want only the upside of any such gamble and none of the downside risk for their private post-employment savings/investment.)

From the wikipedia link above:

"Performance bonds have been around since 2,750 BC and, more recently, the Romans developed laws of surety around 150 AD, the principles of which still exist."

. . . until now.

The parallel is the lack of accountability.

City administrators/commissioners could have awarded the contract to IBM or another huge implementation vendor.

Instead, the chose one of the smallest start-ups in the biz.

Worse yet: no deep pockets to sue.

Mmmmm, eating crow. Tastes a lot like chicken.

My lesson learned:

Commissioners are lied to by bureau heads. Bureau heads are lied to by consultants. Consultants are lied to by mid managers. Mid managers are lied to by project leaders. Project leaders are lied to by everybody else. The lies start at the bottom and work their way up.

I shoulda' known better.

Does a shade-tree mechanic lie when he tell's his wife that he'll be done with the tune-up in time for dinner?

Boy, I can't wait to vote for Sam so I can pay more tax and get less.
Sam, who is going to pay for every program you want, complete with overruns, when people get smart and move out of Portland? You don't want business in Portland, you want bicycles.
Why don't you and Leonard get a clue and follow Eric. I will tell you why, you can't make it in the private sector.

I'm in a different branch of government...and I'd take an opposite view of Dave's comment.

The pressure to lie comes from the top. Politicos at the top only want to hear the *good-news* Very few upper mgmt and mid mgmt have the spine to tell the truth straight. So those peons at the bottom (like myself) tell it straight and the no one gives a darn. Peons like me don't lie...we just don't say a hell of a lot and figure out how best to do our job and minimize jumping through the stupid hoops that have nothing to do with the task at hand.

Lesson learned (over and over) as a peon. Leaders will sink their teeth into any idea (good or bad) just to call it theirs. They really don't give a darn about what the people who actually do the work think about making the agency better. I may not work for the city - but I do work for another human bureaucracy that is currently in a similar situation.

I think you are right and I take back my bottom up statement. I think the consultants con the commissioners and the top managment has to admire the emperor's clothes, or get the axe. I'm sure the folks doing the work just shake their heads.... over and over again.

Just wait until Sam has become mayor and he doesn't have to face the voters for four years. He'll be volcano of stupid ideas. He'll want to place the Sauvie Island Bridge over PGE Park in order to create a bike link between downtown and the West Hills.

What happened here is that the City central payroll (reports to the Mayor) several years ago promulgated standard business practices which they then gave to the consultant. The consultant assumed that the City knew what it was talking about and designed the software to fit the business practices. Surprise. Most of the Bureau's weren't following the standard business practices because the Unions were going to each individual Bureau/Commissioner and getting them to adopt the pay practices that had been going on but that didn't fit the new business practices.

In other words this is one of those situations where having five different Commisioners getting to decide how to "interpret" what are supposed to be "standard" business practices comes back to bite the taxpayers. The consultant is going to make out big time once the courts get ahold of this one.

Greg C

Musician - and this would be worse than Potter's tenure how?

Even if Sam is as bad as you say, since Potter couldn't get the "strong mayor" system approved (thank God - as a former Detroiter, let me say Portland's system is infinitely better), how much damage can he actually *do*?

Adams has some good ideas. He also has some lousy ones - that's true of virtually every politician.

This city has a remarkably balanced transportation system - I think Adams will work to keep that. I shudder to think what Sho would do to that balance. This city can't cater solely to cars - we've seen that happen before: it's called "Detroit" or "Los Angeles" or "Atlanta". It ends with a dead downtown, surburban sprawl, and people who *HAVE* to use their cars to go anywhere.

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