Vic govt IT admins slammed by auditor

Victoria's Auditor-General has chided the state government's IT administrators for failing to deliver a number of substantial projects on time and in the black, but some still see the state as "light years ahead of New South Wales".

Victoria's Auditor-General has chided the state government's IT administrators for failing to deliver a number of substantial projects on time and in the black, but some still see the state as "light years ahead of New South Wales".

Des Pearson, Auditor-General for Victoria, released a report yesterday assessing the outcome of the state's whole-of-government electronic directory initiative — Project Rosetta — concluding that delays and budget excesses related to the project are symbolic of ongoing problems in government IT.

"The time and cost overruns experienced in Rosetta are becoming commonplace when reviewing multi-agency ICT implementations," said Pearson in a statement.

He flagged recent problems with the state's e-health initiative HealthSMART — which was found to be running two years behind schedule — as more serious but said "these recurring features indicate that lessons need to be learned".

The report's findings indicated that the Rosetta Project had gone AU$3 million over-budget by its completion and was delivered seven months late, prompting the Auditor-General to strongly recommend that more realistic time frames and costs estimates are specified for future multi-agency projects.

"By their nature, multi-year and multi-agency ICT projects are complex, and this complexity needs to be better recognised," said Pearson.

"A lot of it comes back to the original planning for the implementation, there was a lack of rigour in the consideration of time lines and costs," said Andrew Grieves, Assistant Victorian Auditor-General, Financial Audits.

However, Grieves said that such projects "do have a long gestation period" and the apparent lack of foresight shown by managers was "probably reflective" of the state of business planning at the time.

"Despite years of diligent effort by CIOs and eGovernment Directors and so on, we seem to be edging into an abyss of loss of confidence in [Victorian] public sector ICT projects," said David Hodgkinson, research director at analyst group, Ovum.

The analyst cited the recent mishandling of another government IT project, Ultranet — a Victorian Department of Education initiative — as further evidence of emerging systemic problems with the state's public IT.

"The Ultranet tender closed on 28 September, 2007 and millions have been spent by both the government and vendors in the tender response process. The evaluation outcome was supposed to be announced early in the year, but the silence had become ominous," said Hodgkinson in a statement.

"Now, just as the exhausted marathon runners approach the finish line, the marshals have declared an error in the starting procedures and are directing the runners to run the race over again. The tender has been reissued," he said.

Despite this criticism, Dr Bruce McCabe, managing director of research firm, S2 Intelligence, believes government IT staff — Victorian and Federal — are too often attacked simply by virtue of working in the public sector.

"I think government IT managers are on a hiding for nothing, they're just easy targets," said McCabe.

"They operate in an environment which is far more transparent than those doing equivalent jobs in the private sector ... in that environment you only find out when something goes really, really wrong," he said.

Despite its problems, McCabe told ZDNet.com.au today that the Victorian government is "ahead of every other state" when it comes to technology, and rates its outlook and developments in the area "as highly as anywhere else in the world".

"They're certainly light years ahead of New South Wales," he said.

Today's report comes days after the Victorian government set back the myki smartcard for Melbourne's public transport system for possibly four more years.