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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Portland city computer system officially pronounced a fiasco

When the city auditor, who usually plays patty-cake with politicians and bureaucrats alike, tells you you've screwed up, then you've really screwed up. She reports:

Instead of a $14 million, 14-month implementation as planned, the reported project costs exceeded $47 million and took over 30 months to implement. These significant increases to the originally planned costs and schedule were made worse because some of the planned system functions are not complete and other functions were eliminated as the project developed. In addition, the City’s intent to eliminate secondary or "shadow" systems remains incomplete....

Moreover, the City did not appear to heed some of the warnings from its experience with prior City projects. As it was beginning the process to select and implement the new system, the City compiled a listing of lessons learned from past City projects. The City also recognized the opportunity to learn from problems experienced during this project and issued a "Lessons Learned" document in April 2010. However, we noted concerns in the April report that were similar to concerns in the previous report.

That sounds like an apt new motto for the city: "We Never Learn."

As it continues to increase its knowledge of how to operate and maintain the system, the City may incur up to $4.4 million for consultants to provide operating and maintenance services. Further, the long-term maintenance and support costs of the new software are expected to be higher than the costs of the old software. Because the new SAP software is highly complex, the City anticipates it will need additional staff and training to properly maintain and operate the software. In the City’s FY 2010-11 budget, Council approved additional personnel to maintain and operate the SAP software and to support SAP users. These new positions are also expected to help implement additional SAP software functions, some of which were originally planned to be available once the software went live. City bureaus using the new software will pay for these additional costs through increased fees.
Mission accomplished.

The whole thing is here.

Comments (31)

"We Never Learn." Indeed. SAP software? Oh, that's too on the nose!

Nothing to worry about. The central system in this project -- the firewall that separates authority from accountability -- is up and running.

Its not their money. They dont care.

The comic strip Dilbert comes to mind.

I love page 7, the Oregonian will report that the city "saved" $2.1M on the project.

"Overall, the City did not meet its goals"

BFD - I'd like to see an action plan or some heads on a stick. Isn't this the 26th computer system CoP has screwed up?

"The outside firm hired by the City to provide quality assurance
services repeatedly warned the City about concerns around project
governance and management."

Maybe if Samdy's proteges would stop spending time making PowerPoints telling the world how smart they are, they might have time to focus on stuff like this.

Lesson learned - NEVER ever vote for any CoP bond, it'll just get all p!ssed away.

"City bureaus using the new software will pay for these additional costs through increased fees."

Translation - City bureaus means us.

Pretty good reason why the city can no longer maintain eroding streets or pick up leaves.

I just looked at my property tax and pondered my own involunatry financial support for all these fiascos.

Renminds me of the design and production of the perfect car: "The Homer"

I wonder what kind of sales job the City got from vendors? If you recall the water bureaus' computer fiasco, as well as the many similar stories from cities across the country, I am sure that government is precieved to be 'easy marks'.
If IT costs were 300% over budget in the private sector, heads would roll. If rollout was so far off the mark, somebody would be called to account.
At the same time, I do have to give props to the Auditor. I have been watching her since she took office and she is not one in the limelight, but she always speaks truth to power. Shes a keeper, the 'other' member of a pretty forgettable city council.


I don't think it's call a "sales job" that Sam got from the vendors, but the second word in the quoted IS correct.

I think Dave Lister wrote about this awhile back in The O. He pointed out that it's not the software itself that's the problem necessarily, it's the bungled business processes the software is supposed to support. Garbage in, garbage out, as the programmers used to say. And I'll go further and say that it's our bungled up, multi-bureau, commission form of government that creates the bungled processes that creates the bungled software implementations. If all the bureaus could agree to a common set of standards for payroll, billing, timeclock, ERP, CRM and other back-office processes, the software could almost write itself.

Others have pointed out there are some huge drawbacks to the strong-mayor model -- namely, we shudder at the thought of Sam or Randy with unlimited power -- but if we are going to continue our decentralized, devolved system of competing commissioners with their feuding fiefdoms in the bureaus, we have to be willing to accept this waste of taxpayer money on inefficiencies and redundancies as all but a fact of life.

The Riches of a City are the taxpaying citizens.

SAP software is notoriously rigid and they are very transparent about the need to adapt your business practices to the software, rather than trying to customize it.

I'm shocked and dismayed they will pass these cost overruns on to Portlanders who had no say in the matter. Ditto for the Sellwood Bridge registration fees, the leaf pickup fees, the doubling of parking meter rates and parking/traffic fines, and a 50% increase in water/sewer rates.

Portland's voters can't say they haven't been punished over and over again for returning the same incumbents to office term after term.

After watching the Wate Bureau software debacle this comes as no surprise. They just circle the wagons and support each other's decisions, with a promotion or two thrown in. What idiots we are to put up with this.

SAP software is notoriously rigid and they are very transparent about the need to adapt your business practices to the software, rather than trying to customize it.

I don't doubt that's true, although Oracle has other shackles (namely on pricing) it forces its customers into as well. While customization is of course inevitable (and maybe SAP was the wrong choice for this for that reason, as you point out), the city still needs to standardize and integrate its processes. I mean, 200 different systems or applications are in use across all the offices and bureaus??!!

If that is true of SAP, Mr. Tee, then why are we in this mess? There is nothing left about a rigid system that doesn't do the job, except to quit or to start over, which apparently they did and we are paying the engineering costs.

Great opportunity for SAP, wouldn't you say?

The story is about another matter, however, when I read this sentence in the article below, I thought of our city -

. . And we have a culture of accountability that’s in tatters. .


And it does signal the end of the American dream. I don’t agree with everything in the Der Spiegel piece, but the overarching theme is correct – Americans were taught that they could have it better than their parents, through hard work and initiative. And that’s not necessarily true anymore. We have an economic system tilted to the benefit of a several-block radius in Lower Manhattan known as Wall Street. We have a political system bought and paid for by those corporate interests. We have a legal system where power and influence can buy justice. And we have a culture of accountability that’s in tatters. So out of all of that, you get scam artists making fake courtrooms and stealing from people, basically assuming the robes of justice themselves in the absence of any competition.

It’s inequality, not just income inequality but inequality of opportunity, upward mobility and justice that drives this. In these times, it couldn’t be more important for community groups to band together, work with their neighbors and build a collective voice. It’s almost the only hope left.

$14 million becomes $47 million?! Three letters come to mind: W. T. F.

Yes, I did write about it in May of 2008 when the problems first began to emerge. The other thing I've written, both on the SAP system and the Water Billing is that the city's own RFP (request for proposal) processes help ensure failure. You can probably find my piece on the water billing by googling "Dripping Dollars". It was in Brainstorm NW magazine back in July 2003.

If you look into a thing like this, what you're likely to find is that most of the problems come from customization. And most of the pressure for customization comes from — wait for it — the customer. People in the city's administration start with the view that their idiosyncratic ways are necessary, or better, or both, than the ways provided in the standard package. As far as I am concerned, they should be able to run the city on Excel. Or maybe Quicken.

Allan L., so you think that "pressure for customization comes from-...the customer.???

Think of how many customers call or come down to all the bureaus and ask for more customizing of the computer programs-most of us don't even know how to even ask, don't care, or that we can for more diversity in all the 300 city programs. The lady trying to pay her water bill isn't interested in how many gallons she used 10 years ago-only the bureaucrats do.

It's like when I went down to BDS last week to review possible sewer hook up on an undeveloped city lot. The staff person brought up a sewer street plan that showed the information, but then he said that he could use another program that would highlight in color the sewer lines. How many programs can the commoner afford? He can't.

Is this the game plan - they dripping dollars while we have to penny pinch?

Might add, not only does the faucet have to be tightened, but the line has to be shut off.
Similar to what the water bureau does to customers who aren't able to pay.

It appears that the City adopted a number of guiding principles at the outset of the SAP implementation that may have helped it to stay closer to schedule and to control costs, then proceeded to violate most of those principles. The City may have tried to do too much in one step, but it seemed to lack an effective overall plan and the ability to make timely decisions to modify the plan when things went south. When Bureaus were faced with the need to change their diverse, outdated business practices to conform to a common set of accepted business practices embodied in SAP, many Bureaus resisted the change, and the City often caved in to those Bureaus. This led to many customizations and interfaces and greatly increased project costs. Responsibility for poor planning and decision making lies with City leaders and management, not the consultants.

SAP may not have been the right system for the City but it has invested more than $47 million in SAP, so it will be around for quite a while. The City that mis-managed the implementation will continue to struggle with SAP unless it finds the ability to standardize the way it does business, requires Bureaus to use SAP rather than their home grown systems and finds more employees with the ability to operate and maintain SAP. Look for ever increasing costs for consultants and contractors to operate and maintain the system. These costs will consume more of your taxes and be relected in increased utility rates and more user fees like the leaf pickup fee.

lw -- I'm pretty sure that when Allan was talking about customer demands, he was referring to the city's role as the customer purchasing the software.

I'm inclined to agree with his other point; couldn't something like 85 percent of the city's business be taken care of via Word, Excel, Access Outlook and their equivalents?

Roger, you're probably right in interpreting Allan. But I was making the point that the customer is not CoP but us.

Do we need three or four programs to display a map? Is that what the true customer, us, needs? For example, does a retail paint store have numerous, duplicating programs to handle the customer buying a can of paint? If they do, paid the price for the numerous programs, then they'll eventually be out of business. Same for this city.

Can't believe nobody (quite) said "Opie lives." Will real people, and real little people, pay for these terrible mistakes as they did with the Water Department fiasco?

People were actually fired over the Water Dept fiasco. But I won't hold my breath waiting for firings over this current debacle.

Why do we all seem to sit back and stress over these problems and yet no one does anything? Can't we come together and make changes?

$14 million becomes $47 million?! Three letters come to mind: W. T. F.

Yet another tripled cost overrun... it mostly prompted four-letter words to my mind. The only printable one was 'tram'.

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