City taking charge of IT projects

City of San Diego Web site

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Concerned that several information technology projects were running over

budget and past due, San Diego officials decided to develop a program management

office to strengthen the success rate of such projects.

Problems ranged from "total failures to where we stopped the project,

but most of the time it was that project costs were a lot higher than we

planned and schedules took a lot longer," said Richard Wilken, director

of the city's Department of Information Technology and Communications.

Through a competitive bidding process, the city recently hired Edison,

N.J.-based RCG Information Technology, which is helping the city take its

first step in creating the program management office, said Leon Parish,

an RCG sales manager. The contract is worth $150,000, he said.

San Diego's problem was that "no one was taking bottom-line accountability

for the entire project," he said, adding that the city has about 160 IT

projects running concurrently. Projects weren't being completed or quality

varied significantly. Also, clear performance measures and accountability

procedures were not established, he said.

According to Parish, the problem extends across the country. He said

40 percent of public- and private-sector IT projects nationwide fail. More

than 70 percent are over budget or past due, and in 80 percent of those,

cost overruns are more than double what had been budgeted, he said.

"A lot of this really lends itself to [poor] project management techniques,"

Parish said. "What the city has experienced is a national trend and not

unique to the city."

However, what is unique to San Diego is its IT service delivery model.

In 1979, the city, unable to attract and retain skilled IT professionals,

created the independent, nonprofit San Diego Data Processing Corp. With

a staff of 400 and an $80 million budget, the SDDPC provides IT and telecommunications

services, with the city as its main contractual customer. San Diego's 70-person

in-house technology department, headed by Wilken, mostly provides cable

TV and wireless infrastructure services, which are not covered by the SDDPC.

Wilken said that although the city has relied on the SDDPC to manage

IT projects, officials found that the nonprofit group wasn't "in a good

position" to manage them. Working in conjunction with the nonprofit group,

Wilken said the city will develop an IT strategic plan, set up a governance

process, strengthen skill sets, manage the business aspects of projects

and establish reporting mechanisms to better measure projects' progress.

The process may take two to three months.

Wilken said he has seen other public-sector entities take similar steps

to better manage IT projects. As technology changes rapidly, he said governments

discover that old methods no longer work.

He said that addressing the Year 2000 date change — a "huge problem

with an immovable deadline" — demonstrated the need for a project management

office. "If you didn't get your act together with project management, you

were going to blow it," he said.

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