Ontario urged to beef up project expertise

A task force headed by former federal Auditor General Denis Desautels has some advice for the Ontario government on how to better manage large IT projects. If followed, these directives could have a significant impact on how IT service providers do business with the province.

The task force found 40 per cent of projects failed to come in on deadline and under budget. While it said the government has done well delivering e-services, the report found other large IT projects have suffered from a lack of political buy-in and a tendency to view IT projects as a technology exercise only, and not a business transformation process.

The report made a series of recommendations, including relying less on outside project management firms and instead building-up project management expertise within the public service, and considering raises to attract and retain veteran staff. Experience shows it’s almost always better to manage projects internally, said Desautels. It’s a matter of best practices, not a lack of trust.

Recommendations included escape clauses in contracts so under-performing vendors can be dropped, faster approval on smaller projects, a preference for shorter projects and fewer projects overall. The report also urged the government to take a wider business, rather than technology centric, view of IT projects.

The government responded quickly with a set of interim measures, and had three months to study the recommendations before making its official response.

“We agree with the task force’s overarching recommendation that major business transformations need strong executive leadership and project management,” said Jason Wesley, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Government Services.

In the interim, the government will take measures to increase management oversight and leadership of IT projects, provide better training for project managers and begin formal post-mortems after major projects to gather lessons learned. However, none of the interim measures dealt with increasing internal headcount to lessen reliance on outside contractors.

“We’ll have to study the report and its recommendations in greater detail before we make any commitments beyond those which we’ve already stated,” said Wesley.

Even if the government does rely less on the private sector, in the long run IT companies will benefit, said Bernard Courtois, president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of Canada.

“Everyone does better if the government is an expert buyer and project manager, and there’s a much better chance of avoiding problems,” said Courtois. “I think experience demonstrates the more successful these projects are, the more customers will spend on future projects.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
As an assistant editor at IT World Canada, Jeff Jedras contributes primarily to CDN and ITBusiness.ca, covering the reseller channel and the small and medium-sized business space.

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