Did California's CIO mislead public on IT success?

Summary:California state CIO, Teri Takai, compiled a list of completed IT projects to demonstrate the state is successful. Closer inspection reveals a series of massive, multi-year IT projects likely to fail.

As part of California's IT Strategic Plan, state CIO, Teri Takai, compiled a list of completed IT projects to demonstrate the state runs a successful information technology operation. However, closer inspection reveals a series of massive, multi-year IT projects likely to fail.

The CIO's website introduces the list, called Wins for California's Information Technology, as follows:

The story of IT in California is one of many successes and a few failures. Between 2003 and 2007, California successfully completed more than 90 projects. These projects, stewarded by a combination of hardworking state employees, involved executives, and a watchful legislature, have provided services to millions of Californians in an efficient and effective manner. The list below exemplifies the breadth and variety of California’s IT successes.

To analyze what's really going on, I popped the list into a spreadsheet. Despite the wide range in project size and cost, note my calculations on averages and medians: overall, these are short projects, even though several were expensive. Here is the successful project report:

Next, we see the state's largest active projects:

The median project cost per year is interesting: items on the active list run at a yearly cost rate ten times higher than those completed successfully. While larger projects are usually more complex and risky, the success list does includes two projects over $1 billion that were each completed within two years.

THE PROJECT FAILURES ANALYSIS

Apparently, California's CIO selectively pulled examples of relatively short IT projects from her large portfolio to "prove" successful IT in general.

Although a non-representative list shows the state can complete some projects successfully, it tells us precious little about overall IT leadership and general capacity to deliver on time and within budget. To proclaim real success, we must examine the broad portfolio to correlate such metrics as project length, budget, and business fit to determine planned versus actual results.

Information Week has harsh words for California IT:

[T]o call the state's current IT situation a monumental disaster would be to insult the words "monumental disaster." Despite a $40B state deficit, California is nevertheless planning nine "strategic" projects scheduled to consume 58 years and $3.6B.

[Y]ou should be more honest with the great people of your wonderful state and level with them about the chances of success some of these projects have....

California's economic crises is so severe that one wonders about the state's ability to fund and complete its large projects. An editorial in today's San Jose Mercury News underscores this point:

Californians should be furious.

Today, the state will stop paying some of its bills and start issuing IOUs. It will stiff taxpayers due refunds, students depending on Cal Grants to stay in school and contractors who have performed work.

Given all this, I believe California's CIO presented an unbalanced, and perhaps even misleading, view of success and likely failure on the state's IT project portfolio.

Do you agree or am I over-reacting to this data?

Topics: CXO

About

Michael Krigsman is recognized internationally as an analyst, strategy advisor, enterprise advocate, and blogger. For CIOs and IT leadership, he addresses issues such as innovation, business transformation, project-related business objectives and strategy, and vendor planning. For enterprise software vendors and venture-funded star... Full Bio

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