Did California's CIO mislead public on IT success?

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.


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?

Topic: CXO

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  • Now just hold on a minute buster...

    Isn't a politician's DUTY to be "unbalanced, and perhaps even misleading"?

    Afterall...if politicians start telling the truth ALL the time...what will the press do for fun and entertainment? Hmmmmmmmm? ;-)
  • Just another excuse to tax you

    These idiots jacked up the state government size thinking the housing market would grow forever and therefore bankroll the government with enough tax revenume.

    WRONG!! Miserably wrong.

    Now the housing bubble bursted and entire economy is suffering. While private companies are laying off, these guys refuse to and wanna raise tax on residents to cover their dumb @$$. What a bunch of crooks.
  • RE: Did California

    These guys are winners compared to the British.

    Here's real project failure from the people that bring us ITIL and Prince. You gotta see this:


    • WOW!!

      Thanks for the heads-up and link. That's a great one!
  • Proving the point

    A caveat:

    You wrote:

    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.

    [End quote]

    However, you observed that you had selected "the state?s largest active projects", so one could expect higher annual expenses.

    Then, an objection:

    In your topic paragraph, you wrote "However, closer inspection reveals a series of massive, multi-year IT projects likely to fail."

    That sets you the problem of proving "likely to fail". And though you quote an article referring to a "monumental disaster", the quote doesn't include proof of failure. (And if it did, you'd be quoting rather than analyzing, inspecting more closely.)

    So I suggest that you haven't proven your assertion. Not that the projects aren't likely to fail, they might be, but that you haven't met your self-imposed task of proving it.

    For context, I'd be curious about the definition of success of a 2 year project costing more than $1.5 billion. It has certainly succeeded in spending a great deal of money very quickly. But what did all that money buy? And how was it up and running so quickly.

    One way or another, seems we could learn from those projects.

    Anton Philidor
    • Good points and semantics

      I agree that I haven't "proved" likelihood to fail, and was aware of that gap when I wrote the post. At the same time, given the duration of the huge projects, even without the budget problems of CA, I still suspect they are troubled. Add the CA budget crisis and I suspect failure us likely.

      So you know, I didn't create the list -- that's what was in the report. I just ran some math on it.
  • RE: Did California

    For me, it was a little confusing from a data analysis point of view. Did the CIO claim smaller budget and faster project where more successful or that overall her projects where successful and she cherry picked some good examples? Also I am not sure if the original article show what the total number of projects attempted vs. total number successfully concluded where.

    I gave up on truth in politics a long time ago so no matter what I won't be surprised. I just assume my political and economic leaders are lying to me and on the rare occurrences when they aren't I am pleasantly surprised.
  • I call bullsh*t!!!!!

    The Child Support Automated System cost is a joke.

    The State of California has been out of compliance with Federal regulations for over a decade until last year.

    We had one failed system that cost hundreds of millions that was scrapped in 1997. The state had to start from scratch to try to meet the federal mandate.

    While we were playing catchup to the rest of the nation, we paid over a billion dollars in non-compliance penalties in addition to the billion plus that the revamped system cost.

    Saying that the project took 2 years and cost 1.7 billion is a freaking lie. The child support system automation is in its 6th and final year of rollout.

    It has taken over 14 years, one failed project that cost hundreds of millions, a billion dollars in non-compliance penalties, and another 1+ billion dollar project to finally come into compliance with the rest of the nation.

    Talk about chutzpah! 1.7 billion is a joke.
    Confused by religion
  • throw him in jail.

    anything less is turning a blind eye.
  • RE: Did California

    And now just imagine for a moment massive new government programs with massive waste... no wait... no need to imagine, that's what we are going to be getting soon. Again California is leading the way!
    • They sure have cut their road maintenance

      Was in SoCal last Nov visiting family and was surprised and how much the roads have deteriorated.

      But how can there be waste? The governor is a Republican....the party of small government! Surely he wouldnt spend the taxpayers money unless it was truly necessary!
      • RINO

        "Republican In Name Only"
        • RINO and...

          ...The whole bunch them are drunk on spending. I really don't what to do when the votes in this state are paid for with "entitlements" by a party known for looking out for the little guy.

          I fear that we have similar situation now at the Federal level with the one party in control. Bush got it half-right with tax cuts, but missed it on the spending.
      • You don't have to be a vistor to notice this.

        I was born and lived California most of my life (except for being in Air Force as an pilot for 12 years being sent to many places) but see that California roads are a terrible shape. However California is not only state to suffer from this problem. I think like many other states that politics has taken over too many projects and they have become "cash cows" for politicians and friends.
        Even with a real cow you need to feed and take care of it before it will give milk but politicians forgot to feed & take care the cow and now the cow is dying.
        • partly right

          you are right that goverment, in all aspects and levels do gouge and spend stupidly, but when it comes to roads.. well.. they should never be let go too long. I live in Pennsylvania and have traveled from here all the way to florida and alabama and then some. One thing that I have noticed, and unless you live in these northern states you would not know, is that the lower states do not have half the problem keeping up their roads as the northern states do..

          The bigger the temperature fluctuation, the worse the roads get. Not to mention that in these northern states you get the snow and ice. The water gets in the cracks in the roads which then breaks the roads up faster and then the famous snow plows, which scrape the road down to the pavement, and any little piece that sticks up get caught and then you get potholes galore.

          Here the state let the roads and the bridges go for years and did little to keep them up. Just these last few years have they been getting down to business and getting things fixed, like they should have done for years now.. and for the life of them, can not figure out why things got so bad.. hmmm i wonder..

          I think we need to make all these politicians live on a modest salary for year to make them think about the spending every so often.. maybe then we would not have all the wasted spending and the complaints about things not being kept up.. we would have money to spare.. we could only dream..
  • You're bang on

    If you look at the Standish group's study (Chaos: A Recipe for
    Success) on the success rates of IT projects you'll see that
    cost is inversely proportional to project success. If I
    remember right (and based on the last study I have), the
    highest success rates are for projects in the $750K range.
    Note that it's $750K worth of custom software development -
    not SAP licenses. I'm wondering how much coding is wrapped
    up in those billion+ projects. That's where you start to fail.
  • Shameful

    It's a discredit to our profession that IT project failures are still so common. In an age of modern project management methodologies, there's just no excuse for this.

    No one expects a 100% success rates. It's prudent to take risks sometimes, and when you take risks there's always a chance of failure. But the failure rate in IT, although somewhat improved of late, is way too high.
  • RE: Did California

    I agree completely. I would go on to suggest that California state IT has been UN-led to this day.

    Of course I also believe NO government or public education entity should be PERMITTED to use PROPRIETARY software and that California should have taken the lead in a move to open, collaborative development based on OPEN standards and the GPL.

    The wheel has been reinvented far too many times and taxpayers continue to be SOAKED for it.
  • $25mi for computers ?

    BIG laugh !
  • LOL, Give Teri Takai a break she has only just started!

    Give Teri Takai a break she has only just started at California?s IT Department. She only departed Michigan?s Department of Information Technology (MDIT) about a year ago. She modeled MDIT after America?s greatest failing companies the Big 3 (GM, Chrysler, and Ford) considering she came from Ford before taking over MDIT and MDIT is now run by a guy who came from GM.

    Yes, we now have so much bureaucracy to wade through at MDIT that all the employees do is fill out paperwork and go to meetings. We hire EDS, IBM, and other contractors to do the work since we are too busy with all of the overhead of the paperwork and meetings (that is when they actually do the work while charging our state outrageous fees and do not forget the last governor of Michigan set himself up with a nice job with EDS after leaving Michigan). Mind you not that Enterprise Security has been given too much power and nothing ever gets approved because just being connected to the internet is a security risk. An employee of MDIT might as well resign oneself to the fact that his life has become that of a paperwork pusher in an organization that rarely accomplishes anything. Our users are always upset with us and all we can say is that we try and some of us do care about our customers needs; it is the system that stops us and is choking us. Oh, by the way we charge them enough for just having a computer connected to the network each year that they basically pay for a whole computer each year, but never get a new computer.

    Lol, hope you in the Golden State end up with a better result than us here in Michigan!