A.G. raps federal IT project management

The Federal Government is fumbling potential opportunities to improve business practices and services to Canadians, according to a critical report of IT project management by Auditor General Sheila Fraser.

The report notes the Feds continue to experience problems managing large IT projects, despite a framework of best practices being in place since 1998.

“We found several of the same problems we have reported in the past,” says Fraser. And the persistence of these long-standing problems is extremely troubling, she adds, because they involve large public investments.

According to the report, the federal government has approved funding of $8.7 billion over the past three years for new business projects with significant use of IT. Skill sets and procedures for project management, organizational capacity, processes of governance and business transformation were all found wanting by varying degrees.

Fraser’s report found only two of the seven large IT projects examined met all the criteria for well-managed projects.

Treasury Board Secretariat, home to the federal CIO office, failed to adequately oversee two high-profile portfolios.

“Secure Channel,” jointly managed by Public Works and Government Services Canada and often held up as its paragon, failed. “Expenditure Management Information System”, designed to improve reporting and transparency, budget decision-making and management of horizontal initiatives, also failed.

In fact, the latter was labeled as the worst-case scenario by audit lead director Greg Boyd. “It didn’t meet most of the criteria we were looking for,” he says. Projects were graded on governance, business case, organizational capacity and project management.

While individual departments are responsible for their projects, Treasury Board Secretariat plays a central role in ensuring that IT projects fit the government’s priorities and follow sound management principles, adds Boyd.

Jim Alexander, deputy CIO at Treasury Board, says the organization will be working with other private- and public-sector organizations around the world to improve its guidance on project management disciplines, to meet the Auditor General’s recommendations.

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