I read the articles, and it seems to me this is a usual FUBAR on such projects.
- It starts with a long mission statement, hailing a new vision, and very ambitious targets to be met.
- The usual outsourcing suspects... i mean experts, are hired, their past performance on big projects isn't put into question.
- The development teams are enormous, political squirmishes abound between managers.
- Unusual and cruel specs documents, lots of red tape to be implemented that is written in obscure language, and keeps getting worse as new laws and procedures appear everyday and have to be implemented as well.
- Milestones for project deliveries are set with few grasp of the project risks and complexity, and functionality expectations are set too high.
- Feature creep!!!... need i say more...
- Loss of management focus, large projects need a clear leadership that can be an effective buffer between the political leadership and the several development teams, usually it's not the case. Top managers in public IT projects are part of the political establishment themselves and not very aware of the complexities of large IT projects.
- Mind the end user, there is always a tendency for the political leadership and the top public officials to remove those pesky and ungrateful operations personnel from giving input on the functional analysis and making suggestions. These ivory tower escapades from the people that are removed and out of touch with the operations environment are an important reason for delays in project adoption and eventual failure.
- People expect it to have everything and the kitchen sink, because these projects are sold to the public in such hyperbolic fashion so that naturally disappointment and loss of credibility ensues.
- And to top it all, these projects are an excellent opportunity for all kinds of top public officials and politicians to complicate matters even more by adding more complicated layers of procedures and requirements on to already complex public services. Bureaucrats get a field day imagining all kind of situations and having the opportunity to get their fantasies come true.
IMHO most public IT projects have been pointing to an ever bigger centralization, this fits the profile of the increasing control freaks that run for office in many western countries. And get very well with the already control freak leaning public officials.
Although the end purposes are well meaning, the project can drift from helping to reduce time spent on paper work and faster information access, to increased time spent in ever bigger requirement forms, over complex forms and slow interfaces due to poor implementation. Sometimes the top brass is more worried with "bling" reports to show work done and require even more information to be put into the system.
Any cost cutting done by IT projects can be only evaluated after it's been deployed over several months or years, and only if it has been a tool for operational changes and restructuring (less personnel, more medical procedures, less waste, increased effectiveness). I'm a bit cynical about that, since public sector takes a lot of time to change it's ways, and the usual political driven metrics end up messing any good work that has been done (like the amount of time an hospital bed is occupied and to minimize it patients are sent home early).
And for politicians gaining elections and maintaining some political credibility is more important than having the work done, the appearance of success is more than enough until someone leaks the bad news to the press.
Seems to me that outsource companies should be subjected to more oversight while working in a project, if i had an euro for every story that i heard of a outsource company manager making an high risk decision and completely derailing a project i would be rich.
Some consulting companies breed highly ambitious people, although thats not bad by itself, the urge to get promoted fast and achieve an higher status can make people liable to gamble with the odds when a more conservative approach would get better results.
Having friends working in public sector IT projects i have seen how frustrated they get when they try to achieve a moving target spec, after completing an implementation just to know that the laws governing that system completely changed and are more obscure to interpret.