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Victorian Ombudsman whacks state’s IT spending

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Ten out of ten ICT projects examined by the Victorian Ombudsman, George Brouwer, were flops.

His report, tabled in the Victorian Parliament yesterday, was an “own motion” study instigated by the Ombudsman’s office (rather than in response to a complaint from the public).

Each of the ten projects examined ran over budget, with their original total estimated cost of $AU1.3 billion more than doubled by $AU1.44 billion in overruns.

The report nominates some spectacular disasters: the Department of Human Services’ CRIS (Client Relationship Information System) was three years late, with costs rising by $AU47 million (more than 218 per cent overrun); the notorious and abandoned Victoria Police LINK system, which was originally budgeted at $AU59 million but would have cost $AU187 million had it been completed.

Or there’s the public transport myki system ($AU350 million over its original $AU999 million budget) or HealthSMART (budget $AU323 million, overrun $AU243 million).

The office states that in spite of plentiful literature here and overseas setting out how to manage IT projects – along with Victoria’s own painful experiences, which could have taught some lessons – “we see little sign of lessons learnt in the public sector.”

“Despite the extensive guidance and literature available, agencies are making the same mistakes around planning, governance, project management and procurement,” the report says. “This includes the lack of accountability of those responsible for these project failures, especially senior agency executives and the Department of Treasury and Finance”.

The office reserved its strongest language for the cancelled LINK project and the VicRoads RandL project (which has black-holed $AU52 million but isn’t yet past the design phase), calling both projects “abject waste”.

While the report has been seized upon as the basis for political interpretation, it’s interesting to note that the current government is no more enthusiastic about scrutiny of IT projects than the former. &

“In May 2011, I sought a range of cabinet documents from the Department of Premier and Cabinet,” the Ombudsman writes. Not only did the current Liberal Party government refuse access to the documents; the leader of the ALP opposition concurred. ®

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