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The flip site of government IT failures: the contractors

October 7, 2013 0 Comments

My friend and colleague Robert La Ferla pointed me to this Boston Globe article detailing problems with certain of Deloitte’s large-scale IT projects for governments (emphasis mine):

In its brochures, Deloitte Consulting proclaims a record of “smooth implementations” of complex technology projects. But in courts, school systems, and government agencies in several states, the roll-out of computer systems built by the global consulting firm has proved to be anything but smooth.

From Florida and Pennsylvania to California, multimillion-dollar projects managed by the New York company have come in behind schedule, over budget, and riddled with problems. It is a situation that has been repeated in Massachusetts this summer; Deloitte was two years late and $6 million over budget in delivering a system to manage unemployment claims, and, separately, the Department of Revenue fired the firm for falling behind on a $114 million tax-system overhaul mired in errors.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, school officials fired Deloitte in 2009, partway through an $84 million contract to overhaul the district’s computer system. After paying Deloitte $30 million and having “virtually nothing” usable they could rescue, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, the district turned the project over to its in-house technology department, which completed it on time and within the budget. . . .

In a statement, Deloitte defended its efforts on public contracts, saying it has worked with agencies in 45 states.

“Thousands of these projects have been delivered without incident and we acknowledge the challenges we’ve had with certain engagements,’’ Dan Prince, a Deloitte spokesman, said. “That said, we’re proud of what we’ve done in this segment and would not want these few projects to be held up as reflective of our entire body of work.’’

The problems with several of Deloitte’s systems also spotlight the difficulties that state and local governments often have in managing large technology projects, contracting specialists said. Few agencies have the will to end a project that is going badly, often fearing they will not find another firm to take over the job.

Be sure to read the entire article.

That last cited paragraph underscores a fundamental problem in large-scale IT projects: it can be very hard to find anyone within the organization who has the wisdom, the courage, and — as noted — the will (and, I might add, the institutional power) to pull the plug on a failing IT project. Instead, there is a constant hope that with just a few fixes and some additional staffing, the project can be successfully launched.

My intent is not to pick on Deloitte; I daresay virtually every major IT consulting firm has its share of troubled or failed IT projects, and often for reasons that have to do with the client rather than the firm. But I do want to make it clear that the problems can come from either or both parties in large IT projects such as this.




About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

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