Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another huge technology overrun at City of Portland

Story today at KATU about yet another mishandled technology project.

Portland is trying to join the late 20th century in terms of financial management systems. The new system was supposed to cost about $28 million. Current cost: $50 million and counting. The city is paying consultants on the project an average of $273 an hour.

Portland's CFO, Jennifer Sims, says these rates are commonplace for projects such as this. Oh really? The story quotes my friend Dave Lister, who ran for city council a few years ago. Dave runs a software company that writes and installs this same kind of software. He'll tell you that $273 an hour isn't typical at all.

So as Portland gets deeper and deeper into what is clearly going to be the next costly failure, what does the CFO have to say?

"I'd rather be talking to you this way about the success and how diligent we are being to make it right than have you sitting here asking me questions about how it went wrong,"

Uh, so would we, Ms. Sims. What does this even mean? Is she defending the obvious incompetence, saying that the almost two-fold cost overrun is just because she is being extra "diligent?" Apparently - the story went on to say:

"But Sims said in the long run, spending the money to make sure the job is done correctly is the right thing to do."

With the track record of city hall on these types of projects, does anybody honestly believe that spending all this money will ensure the system is done right? Or that it was actually necessary to spend $50 million (and counting) in the first place?

The city's credibility on such things is absolutely zero. But that doesn't keep them from spending tens of millions of dollars more than it should cost.

Why won't they just let Lister do the project? I've spoken to him at length about the Water Bureau billing system disaster. That project was doomed to fail from the get go, and when it did fail, the RFP the city put out for the replacement system pretty much ensured that the new attempt would be far more expensive than necessary also.

The rarest commodity at City Hall appears to be competence.


Anonymous said...

Not to be flip about 911, but can you imagine Bush saying, "Let's not talk about what went wrong on 911, let's talk about what went right."

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