For the people

government IT projects must step carefully to serve the public good

 
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BY SARAH FISTER GALE
ILLUSTRATION BY NEIL WEBB

And in today's tech-obsessed world, that often means moving them online. In addition to keeping the people happy, full digitization could create cost efficiencies to the tune of US$1 trillion worldwide, according to a December 2014 McKinsey & Co. report.

But the path forward is rocky. Conflicting stakeholder requests, fluctuating budgets and sponsors who change with each election cycle add constant pressure to these already complex projects. And frequently, these pitfalls lead to failure.

Consider the U.S. government's much-heralded launch of HealthCare.gov, the online health insurance exchange where consumers can compare prices and enroll in plans. While the website launched on schedule, users were locked out of the system due to technical glitches—and portions of the site were down most of its first month. Or look at the launch of the U.K. government's online immigration system, which was supposed to manage immigration and asylum applications. Persistent delays stymied the £347 million project, which was abandoned after three years due to a lack of progress.

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Project managers must find a way to rally stakeholders and collaborate across departments.

—Marion Royal, PMP, U.S. General Services Administration Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, Washington, D.C., USA

Overly ambitious planning and a lack of oversight have doomed many government IT projects. But there are also rays of hope. Several recent digitization projects have successfully given citizens the ability to do everything from vote and renew driver's licenses to report crimes and pay taxes online.

For instance, Estonia's e-residency project has made it possible for anyone, even nonresidents, to launch a business in the country (See case study, page 38). In Denver, Colorado, USA, the city government launched a mobile app that lets people make payments, sign up for service reminders, find property values and access other services online. And the United Kingdom recently completed a project to unify 312 government websites under the Gov.uk domain.

When these kinds of projects are successful, they often save taxpayers money. For instance, officials in Denver expect to save US$250,000 per year from reduced customer service call times alone. But to realize this potential, project managers must find a way to rally stakeholders and collaborate across departments, says Marion Royal, PMP, director of the government solutions division in the U.S. General Services Administration Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT) in Washington, D.C., USA.

“Everyone is working toward the same goals, and there are probably lots of experts who could assist you,” he says. “But they can't help you if they don't know that you need help.”

Governments are expected to invest in initiatives that help communities thrive and make life easier. But given that ROI is not always tied to profits, the public sector must take a more holistic approach to define project success. In addition to looking at the cost-effectiveness of IT projects, governments must also consider their social utility and value.

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“In the private sector, when the CEO says ‘this needs to be done,’ it gets done. But I don't have that power in government.”

—Taavi Kotka, Estonian government, Tallinn, Estonia

PHOTO BY JOE RAEDLE/GETTY IMAGES

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“We look at value for the money invested in a project. It can be a more complicated ROI to measure.”

—Farhad Khurshid, PMP, Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

For example, if a team installs a self-serve kiosk at a licensing center, it might want to measure how many customers choose to use an automated service rather than waiting in line to see a live agent. But the team would also want to consider the decrease in wait time per customer, how the change impacted the experience and any operational costs saved by the center.

“We look at value for the money invested in a project,” says Farhad Khurshid, PMP, senior business consultant and project manager, Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “It can be a more complicated ROI to measure.”

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

Yet, not all governments take such an inclusive approach to project prioritization. Getting sponsors and stakeholders on board early can help project managers secure funding and avoid the long delays that often plague public-sector IT projects, Mr. Royal says.

“Stakeholders have a lot of priorities, so you want to be sure you get on their radar early,” he says.

Mr. Royal is currently leading a project to move multiple divisions of the OCSIT, a government office charged with helping agencies use technology to improve customer service, from on-premise systems to the cloud. One of the project's biggest risks revolves around security. To ensure the cloud-based solution, which sits outside of the agency's firewall, would be well protected, Mr. Royal brought the security team in from the start.

Before his team began the implementation, he met with the security director to review the project's goals, create a plan and schedule a weekly meeting to review the team's progress. As planning progressed, Mr. Royal also worked with the security team to proactively identify risks and create mitigation strategies. They established system configuration and change controls and agreed on contingency plans for service disruptions, then validated the documentation package with system and application scanning, penetration testing and tabletop walk-throughs.

“It has made the whole process go much smoother,” he says. “They know our requirements months in advance, and they can help us predict security roadblocks.”

Breaking projects into manageable chunks can also help government IT teams avoid schedule delays, Mr. Royal says. When he inherited the OCSIT cloud project, it was packaged as one massive initiative. But he broke it down into several smaller projects with staggered deadlines, each focused on moving an individual data asset online.

The team began with Data.gov, the website that provides public access to federal government data sets. Next it will move on to The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, which provides a standardized approach to security assessment, and Connect.gov, a secure site that houses digital applications for government services.

“With smaller roadmaps we can focus intently on one set of goals, then deliver them and move on,” Mr. Royal says. This helps his team deliver quick results frequently, which makes the agency look good and helps the project team leverage early lessons learned.

“We are getting a lot of wins, and the feedback is helping us adjust our priorities with each new phase.”

UNIFYING PRACTICES

Governments are also adopting greater standardization, looking to improve their processes with project management best practices. Anupam Gupta, head of the planning and quality section at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQATAR) in Doha, Qatar, has leveraged his experience as a private-sector consultant to strengthen and unify project management practices across the ministry.

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People in Miami, Florida, USA wait to register for health insurance through HealthCare.gov. The U.S. government project to create and launch the website did not go smoothly.

PHOTO BY KAMI KAMI/GETTY IMAGES

“Historically there had been a few attempts to centrally manage projects, but when I was developing the system, these old processes had ceased to exist in practice,” he says. “Every project was being managed by its respective department and reported upon as needed to the management.”

That often resulted in overlapping deliverables, an inefficient use of funds and a lack of integration between systems, Mr. Gupta says. He began to address these issues by implementing enterprise project management software. The web-based solution outlines the forms and information project managers need before they can submit a budget request.

“Now if anyone wants to request a project, they need to go through a business case development process,” he says.

It's a complex process, but it ensures the best and most valuable projects are pushed forward—and that teams have the tools they need to manage the project as it advances, Mr. Gupta says. The system also maps out the entire project management life cycle, outlining the requirements gathering and documentation steps for every phase. And once the project launches, the system follows ongoing performance measures so that Mr. Gupta can determine whether projects are on track.

“It's been a lot of work. And early on, people didn't accept it,” he says. “Resistance to new ways of doing things is human nature.”

Mr. Gupta hosted multiple training sessions to get project managers and senior leaders comfortable with the new processes. And he tasked a project management office staffer in each major department with championing the new system. “They were there to further educate and resolve problems for all of the project managers,” Mr. Gupta says.

A structured change management process has also helped garner support for the new system from both project managers and department heads. The right projects have been funded based on their strategic alignment, and problems have been identified and solved earlier in the process—which means more initiatives are meeting their delivery goals.

“This has created interest in data-based decision making and has helped secure buy-in,” Mr. Gupta says.

img “Resistance to new ways of doing things is human nature.”

—Anupam Gupta, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Doha, Qatar

CASE STUDY

Set Up Shop

An e-commerce project aims to expand online shopping in Qatar.

Qatar may be the richest nation in the world according to the GDP per capita, but just 14 percent of its citizens have made e-commerce purchases—and only 6 percent of Qatari businesses allow customers to make purchases online via their own e-commerce portals.

“The rate of adoption has been extremely low,” says Kumara Badhuge, PMP, project manager for the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in Doha, Qatar (ictQATAR).

“Once they see the benefits, we believe the key stakeholders will make the necessary investments.”

—Kumara Badhuge, PMP, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Doha, Qatar

There are many reasons the country has been slow to adopt e-commerce, he says. The cost of acquiring an electronic payment platform is high, while trust among consumers for online purchasing is low. In Qatar, most payments are made on a cash-on-delivery basis, most citizens use debit cards rather than more commonly accepted credit cards, and the domestic infrastructure for delivering goods to people's homes and businesses is run by a monopoly, the national postal operator, QPost.

ictQATAR set out to create a framework for growth that will address the regulatory and governance aspect of e-commerce through the e-Commerce Act, enhance the e-commerce value chain through the e-Commerce Master Plan, and provide a platform to facilitate the implementation and support the adoption of e-commerce through the Qbuy platform.

Once this platform is implemented, it will support merchants and subject matter experts by offering knowledge and learning resources, as well as online tools, on-demand-support and funding.

“Every issue we faced went into the project roadmap,” Mr. Badhuge says.

Once the team had the project plan in place, it began actively working with stakeholders—two full years before the business case would be presented for budget approval. ictQATAR started early because it knew the project team would have to rely on key stakeholders to break down barriers, such as coordinating with local banks to provide payment gateways for debit cards through Qatar Central Bank's QPay debit card payment gateway.

“We couldn't deliver this project if we didn't have the concerned stakeholders at the table,” Mr. Badhuge says.

The ictQATAR project team went on a project road show, presenting the plan and sharing metrics from across the Middle East, outlining the benefits other countries had seen from cultivating a robust e-commerce environment. “Once the key stakeholders saw the benefits, the majority were on board,” Mr. Badhuge says.

ictQATAR hoped this early stakeholder engagement would help the project get the resources and support it needed to be successful. And so far, the strategy is working. As of October 2015, ictQATAR announced that it would open the domestic delivery market to competitors, and stakeholders had convinced three banks and one local payment solution provider to accept debit cards as a payment option by connecting to Qatar Central Bank's QPay payment gateway.

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In Qatar, most citizens use debit cards rather than more commonly accepted credit cards.

The ictQATAR project team worked with Pay-Fort, a United Arab Emirates-based payment service provider, to roll out an additional debit card payment gateway in December. “This will allow merchants to accept widely used debit cards as a payment option for e-commerce consumers in Qatar,” Mr. Badhuge says.

Despite these early successes, however, technical difficulties remain. The ictQATAR project team still needs to work with payment gateway service providers in Qatar to improve the payment gateways by offering a better customer experience for both mobile and web users.

ictQATAR plans to build the case for improving the sites’ design, security and user experience by publishing an information portal providing guidelines and showcasing high-profile examples of regional e-commerce websites. This will give merchants and key stakeholders, including financial service providers, a sense of the online experience consumers expect. The e-commerce project team will also be conducting joint seminars with Qatar Central Bank to educate merchants on the benefit of having a secured debit card payment gateway to minimize payment fraud.

“Once they see the benefits, we believe the key stakeholders will make the necessary investments,” Mr. Badhuge says.

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Tallinn, Estonia

PHOTO BY WESTEND61/GETTY IMAGES

CASE STUDY

An Estonian Abroad

Estonia's e-residency project is opening the country's virtual borders.

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Estonia may be one of the least-populous members of the European Union, but it could soon be the largest virtual country in the world. Taavi Kotka, CIO and deputy secretary general of the Estonian government in Tallinn, compares the country's e-residency program to ride-share company Uber's distributed business model.

“Uber is the biggest taxi company in the world, but it owns no cars. And we are going to be the largest country in the world with just 1.3 million residents,” Mr. Kotka says.

Estonia's online e-residency platform allows anyone in the world to become an e-resident by simply submitting a few forms and paying €50. “We are pioneering the idea of a country without borders,” Mr. Kotka says.

Most of the supporting tech infrastructure was already in place, which made it relatively easy to get the portal off the ground, says Kaspar Korjus, e-residency program director, Tallinn. “The Estonian people already have a fully digitized life,” he says. They can vote online, order prescriptions, pay taxes, sign documents and conduct virtually any other government interaction online. “The idea was to open that up to the rest of the world.”

GLOBAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

While e-residency status isn't a path to citizenship, it does allow the holder to create a location-independent business online. Businesses chartered in Estonia can take advantage of the country's sophisticated digital environment to do e-banking, secure remote money transfers, digitally sign documents and contracts, and encrypt and transmit documents securely.

The platform will be especially valuable to entrepreneurs in developing countries without access to global payment services and other e-commerce features. The goal of the program is to drive new customers to Estonian businesses and create new business opportunities for Estonian banks, accountants and other service providers.

Mr. Kotka and Mr. Korjus tested the project concept with a pilot in October 2014, just to see if people would be interested in the idea. The project's first iteration was just a subscription page with basic information about the program. “In 20 hours we had 4,000 hits from 150 countries,” Mr. Korjus says.

Follow-up emails with those early visitors showed 60 percent were interested in creating international businesses. “Through Estonia, they saw an opportunity to sell products globally,” he explains.

In January 2015 the government officially formed a team to run the project, and a beta version of the e-residency application portal was launched in May. Every month since then, the team has rolled out new iterations of the platform and gathered feedback from users about what is working and what needs to be tweaked.

“It's like having users sit right next to us when we are developing, which helps us prioritize what to do next,” Mr. Korjus says.

PLAYING POLITICS

Because much of the IT infrastructure already existed, the project only required a €1 million budget (which is supplemented by incoming application fees). Indeed, the biggest project challenges weren't technical or financial, but political—specifically, getting government ministers to play their part, Mr. Kotka says.

“Every country wants to increase the wealth of its people. With e-residency, we are achieving that using technology that was already here.”

—Taavi Kotka

“In the private sector, when the CEO says ‘this needs to be done,’ it gets done. But I don't have that power in government,” he says. “I push as hard as I can, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. When I fail, we just look for another way.”

But by most counts, the project has been a success. The team's original goal was to garner 2,000 applications by the end of 2015, but by the end of the year Estonia had already welcomed nearly 8,000 e-residents from 121 countries. The long-term goals are to attract 60,000 e-residents by the end of 2017 and 10 million e-residents by 2025—nearly 10 times the country's current population.

“Every country wants to increase the wealth of its people,” Mr. Kotka says. “With e-residency, we are achieving that using technology that was already here.” PM

PM NETWORK MARCH 2016 WWW.PMI.ORG
MARCH 2016 PM NETWORK

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