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Army's Huge SAP Project 'At High Risk'

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the new-old-meaning-for-spend-a-penny dept.

Government 166

itwbennett writes "The Army's $2.4 billion SAP project is delayed, over budget, and, once implemented may not even meet its original objectives, according to a recent auditors' report. For its part, the Army is less concerned with the auditors' findings about the project that will manage a $140 billion annual budget and serve nearly 80,000 users once it is complete: 'The Army believes the risks identified in this report are manageable and do not materially impact the [project's] cost and schedule,' said an official with the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology)."

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That's what you get (5, Insightful)

sortius_nod (1080919) | about 3 years ago | (#36703698)

When you go with SAP.

Re:That's what you get (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36703808)

Horseshit. That's what you get when you don't clearly define what you want, when you change requirements all the time, and when you delude yourself into thinking that SAP will work for you "out of the box."

Re:That's what you get (2)

amiga3D (567632) | about 3 years ago | (#36704022)

And when it's more important for you to set up your big contractor job after retirement than to watch out for the public's money. I've seen that time and again where officers get seduced by contractors for a big 6 figure post retirement check.

Re:That's what you get (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704180)

EXACTLY!

I was in the ARMY for six years and I know how it works. I have worked with (not for) SAP for six years. If you KNOW what your REAL requirements are and you define them well, implementation does not have to be hell. Unfortunately, people don't usually understand the difference between actual REQUIREMENTS and their old processes. Almost without fail the business will declare their old processes as their requirements... and try to force SAP to function almost exactly the way their old system did... which makes me wonder why they didn't just stay with their old system. I was a developer for 15 years before I worked with SAP. It is AWESOME. But no matter how awesome it is, if you don't understand you needs, implementation will be hell.

100% correct (2)

mikein08 (1722754) | about 3 years ago | (#36704410)

I spent 30+ years in IT doing administrative programming. I saw this sort of thing happen constantly. Almost all the users I ever dealt with were of the "How do I know what I want until I see what I get" persuasion. So we gave them what we thought they needed and told them to live with it. They did. If you tried to force users to define their needs as completely as possible, you'd never get out of the requirements-definition phase of a project. Never. Users have neither time nor inclination to define their needs that thoroughly. And user management assuredly isn't competent to do it, at least not at any place I ever worked. And as far as SAP goes, it's a steaming dung heap (one way to assure your continued employment is to understand your employer's SAP implementation thoroughly, because no outsider will ever be able to do so).

Re:That's what you get (4, Insightful)

PhunkySchtuff (208108) | about 3 years ago | (#36703910)

Exactly, the thing with a SAP rollout (or anything else of this magnitude) is that you pass the point of no return quite early into the project and then the consultants have you exactly where they want you - you can't go back now to your old system, but the new system doesn't really do what you expected it to either so as expensive as it seems, it's cheaper to keep paying more to fix the new system than it would be to migrate everything back to the old system...

Once it's all in place and working as it should, SAP can be a fantastic thing to have but getting there is _never_ as straightforward as one would be lead to believe initially.

Re:That's what you get (1)

sphealey (2855) | about 3 years ago | (#36704896)

> Exactly, the thing with a SAP rollout (or anything else of this
> magnitude) is that you pass the point of no return quite early
> into the project and then the consultants have you exactly
> where they want you

Here's a thought: consultants are there to do just that: train, guide, and consult (e.g. _assist_ with analyzing). The people doing the implementation should be the organization's managers (not "project managers" - managers) and the employees who will be using the system. Once a project of this type is segregated in the "IS Department" and handed over to "the consultants" it will certainly fail; the former may know what needs to be done but lack the authority to do it (hence the need for managers to be at the core) and the latter's perverse incentives and conflicts of interest are well documented.

sPh

Re:That's what you get (1)

index0 (1868500) | about 3 years ago | (#36705254)

Isn't the first step some kind of feasibility study?

Re:That's what you get (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704674)

They forgot there wasn't an 'A' in front of the SAP.

Re:That's what you get (1)

sp4ni3l (1417195) | about 3 years ago | (#36704856)

Actually there is. There is a ASAP method, not sure if it is from SAP, but i think it was. It is a method to "quickly" implement SAP. Guess they did not use it here.

Re:That's what you get (1)

Surt (22457) | about 3 years ago | (#36704806)

I'm confused why you're modded funny rather than informative.

Re:That's what you get (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704994)

20 competent geeks on /. could probably set up the entire system in under 1 month split between hardware and software with a budget of $30million, including paying each of them $500k for completion. Besides the savings, they'd probably have a more crypto secure system, hardware if failed would be replaced nearly off the shelf, and with

Budget $10million for overruns or as bonuses, and another $20million to hire some of them for ongoing support. That would 15% of the .4 in the 2.4 billion.

80k users? That's it? In a country of 300million people, there's probably thousands of companies with a customer base that large. Of course, the dataset for the army is probably freaking huge, but still.

Seriously, WTF. No wonder this country has gone to the shits.

Re:That's what you get (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36705500)

80k users but I can't tell you what they need, or how they will be using the system or what the system is really supposed to do. What now?

I'll give you all the money in the world if you can make me a black box that does exactly what I want without me telling you want it is I want it to do.

Re:That's what you get (1)

GNious (953874) | about 3 years ago | (#36705004)

There is a saying, I keep hearing: "No-one ever got fired for choosing SAP"....

Re:That's what you get (3, Informative)

trevelyon (892253) | about 3 years ago | (#36705264)

Yep, never been involved in any SAP implementations but I've seen several. Not one was completed anywhere near the deadline or original budget. Additionally, none of the companies got what they thought they were going to from it (always decreased deliverables). Mind you this is a relatively small implementation pool (5 companies) but zero successes is not a good sign.

Not surprised (5, Interesting)

edgedmurasame (633861) | about 3 years ago | (#36703706)

The only people who will get something out of SAP are the consultants who get paid to "fix" it.

Re:Not surprised (2)

gander666 (723553) | about 3 years ago | (#36703934)

ah, my kingdom for mod points.. As to the earlier post that requirements weren't locked down, and changing needs lead to this. I doubt that there has EVER been a SAP project that didn't have significant scope creep and redefinition midpoint. Also, two or three different phases with different consultants (early, mid, and closer) to get to a mostly functional system.

Ah, the joys of enterprise software.

Re:Not surprised (1)

halowolf (692775) | about 3 years ago | (#36704618)

If requirements et all aren't locked down, then frankly don't start a massive scale project. Instead, start small get something delivered and work to build it up over time when they have a better understanding of what they actually need. A bit of discipline in the programming side can work wonders in making small things big. I've done it, it isn't impossible in the least.

Re:Not surprised (2)

St.Creed (853824) | about 3 years ago | (#36704714)

If the scope of a project is big enough, it is actually impossible to nail the requirements because they will never get consistent. This is also the reason that there is a direct correlation between the size of the project and the successrate. To my knowledge, no single IT-projects over 100 million dollars has *ever* been completed within a reasonable amount of time and in range of the budget, with most of the desired features intact.

Ofcourse, even with a gazillion users there's no need to have a really complex set of requirements. Look at facebook. The problem is the amount of processes this thing has to support, which would be better served by splitting everything up and defining open interfaces so you could build things project by project.

Re:Not surprised (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36705286)

This is the purpose of a relational database system. The system itself maintains accounting and other data which can be modified by the tool the system gives you, and also by many other tools that you or some other company writes and then connects to the database. 90% of the problem is that after you discover that the database supports a certain kind of functionality, you inevitably want to implement that functionality and plug it into this new doodad that you found online but that would save your company huge amounts of money.

Re:Not surprised (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704550)

I think this is standard for any Government project (Military for sure) and any SAP install.

Another money sink... (5, Insightful)

spaceplanesfan (2120596) | about 3 years ago | (#36703732)

Why that isn't cancelled, but Webbs telescope is? Ah, its thats the Army....
RIP US space program

Re:Another money sink... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704366)

What! What is this bullshit!? I did not know that. Fuck America now, they have lost their way entirely, and reduced me to incoherent rage. That was the only Nasa thing left that I was still genuinely excited about.
I propose a campaign of civil disobedience by astronomers and their sympathisers.

Re:Another money sink... (1)

jank1887 (815982) | about 3 years ago | (#36704516)

http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

I just visited NASA Goddard (great visitor's center, take the kids) and according to the web site they're working toward a 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. Quite impressive if you can also wrangle a lab tour.

Re:Another money sink... (1)

filthpickle (1199927) | about 3 years ago | (#36704788)

The latest proposed budget for NASA cancels it.

Too bad we spend so much money on wars that don't make us any safer that we can't afford science. I am so utterly disappointed in Obama...I didn't fall for any of that "change the world" stuff, but I honestly thought he would be better than this. I can't remember who said it, but this isn't my quote, 'As a President, Barack Obama makes a great Senator'.

Re:Another money sink... (2)

doublebackslash (702979) | about 3 years ago | (#36705212)

To be fair Obama asked for a raise in their budget and Congress cut it and asked for a small cut in the military budget and Congress upped it.

President don't have as much control as the talking heads may imply. On the other hand I'm sure he could have done more. Just thought it was a good thing to know, though

Re:Another money sink... (1)

stinkbomb (238228) | about 3 years ago | (#36705106)

Just because NASA isn't launching anything in the next few years, doesn't mean that the US government isn't launching anything. The US space program continues.

Government IT projects (1, Interesting)

Stormthirst (66538) | about 3 years ago | (#36703742)

What is it about government IT projects that makes them go so disastrously wrong? The UK government are no better at getting it right. The MOD* procurement system was a similar mess - over budget, and didn't do what it was set out to do.

* Ministry of Defense

Re:Government IT projects (4, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 3 years ago | (#36703784)

Because:

a) They always employ people with the right connections instead of the right competence

b) Because the consultants they hire know the real money comes from doing it wrong? Why make an effort to deliver on schedule and under budget when you can take your time over it and earn twice as much money in the process?

You might think I'm joking but I've sat in some of the meetings. When I arrived I was under the delusion that I was there to do some work but I was completely wrong, we were only there to kill time before going off to a nice little French restaurant somebody had discovered. My bad.

Re:Government IT projects (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 3 years ago | (#36703826)

the real money comes from doing it wrong

The longer I stay in the software industry the more this fact depresses me.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | about 3 years ago | (#36704170)

the real money comes from doing it wrong

The longer I stay in the software industry the more this fact depresses me.

If I were a little better at programming and were a LOT less honest I could get stinking rich writing enterprise software.

I take that back, my programming skills, though weak, are better than a lot of the enterprise software developers I've encountered.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

SunTzuWarmaster (930093) | about 3 years ago | (#36704224)

I believe that it is really because the software industry is young. Most industries went though this phase for a while before discovering the truth: The REAL money comes from the next project.

Re:Government IT projects (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36703902)

c) They still believe in Waterfall development methodology. They also believe in "fixed-price" contracts. It's the change requests that kill you. The consultants gladly build what you asked for. Then when you realize that you really didn't know what you wanted, they have you.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

amiga3D (567632) | about 3 years ago | (#36704010)

Oh man. You nailed that dead center. Too bad you posted anon 'cause that was a plus 5 informative if ever I saw one.

Re:Government IT projects (2)

owlstead (636356) | about 3 years ago | (#36704052)

Gosh, that's going to be the most insightful comment. The only thing I can do is ammend it a bit.

Currently, as least in Europe, every high priced contract needs to be tendered in the open. This however means that you need to know beforehand what you want. So basically they bring in the consultants at an early stage to create the business case. Then they tender the thing (after a Q&A of the possible participants). And of course price will be a big decider for who wins the tender, so each and every participant will have little flexibility in their business plan. And then they will over charge when change requests are made.

The problem with this kind of business practice is that while the practice of tendering to the lowest bidder is - in itself - a good thing, it completely breaks down if you want to do any kind of modern software development techniques. The use cases are already cast in stone when the contract is done (and even much of the design will have to be present for the participants to create any kind of realistic price). IMHO, they would be better off doing it inhouse, with a company that supplies the software people and software development practices, and an external consultancy firm that specializes in project management (and gets payed for getting that part right).

Re:Government IT projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704842)

The use cases are already cast in stone when the contract is done (and even much of the design will have to be present for the participants to create any kind of realistic price).

It depends of the field. In the construction and building industry, for example, the specifications corresponding to use cases are sometimes defined so ambiguously and widely that the differences between the bids are not simply measurable with money. The government, particularly a local administration, tends to have little experience and know-how in dealing with the bidding processes, the less the more technical the bid is. The relation between the initial offering and the final price with hourly charges and such, extensions and other additional work is sometimes less than 1:10.

Re:Government IT projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36705434)

hahaha, so you're solution is to bring it yet another consultant group? I work as an enterprise software consultant, and let me just say we try very hard to meet deadlines, budgets, and scope. Let me be the first to say that it's never easy to build systems for people that have no idea what they want but sure know what they don't want. Most people don't have a good idea of if they like something until they see functioning code, and therin lies the power of Agile development. Here's the catch though, it's extremely difficult to have a client that likes the Agile process. Everyone wants to know what they're getting for their money. Saying the equivalent of, pay us time and materials for this amount of time and we can't tell you exactly what you're getting until a few days before we start building the first demo you've agreed to some requirements drives people crazy. So you go back to Waterfall. Now as a consultant I need to get paid, and I estimate against the best requirements and wireframes I can get my hands on, and if the client changes their mind on a feature they don't usually get charged unless it adds at least 3 days of effort.

I've also worked on governement projects. The reason they go so far over budget is the same reason some private sector projects go over budget, no one wants to make firm decisions and so everything is designed by committee and therefore every last feature under the sun is included, and there is no sense of good enough. You can buy third party software, integrate it quickly and usually meet a huge list of requirements, if project owners are willing to let go of additional functionality they could save tons of money. The real kicker is that the highly custom functionality is usually totally unused because it's insisted on by someone that has no idea about user interface experience.

So you can blame the consultants if you want, and that might even make you feel good. I'm not trying to defend all of them, I've met some piss poor consultants, but I've also been called at 3 am in the morning by angry clients saying our software didn't work properly when the delivered code worked just fine and I find out the internal IT team only added "logging statements" but clearly had no idea what they were doing.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

Kagetsuki (1620613) | about 3 years ago | (#36704090)

The Waterfall model works very very well in *cultures* where it fits. In Japan for example time and time again they have used the Waterfall model successfully. Americans with a government contract? Yeah, they don't culturally fit the model and, as it's been pointed out, a government contract will make you money for as long as you can extend it in America.

There's nothing wrong with the Waterfall model - but perhaps the American government should learn no American company bidding for a contract with a Waterfall model based project is going to finish on time, under budget, or even get anything working.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

JamesP (688957) | about 3 years ago | (#36704348)

Waterfall works if you have:

- a very clear definition of the problem, hence, the problem shouldn't be too big (think a Wordpad sized project)
- a very thorough knowledge of the technology and its limitations (project that works in several web browsers? forget it)
- almost no variation in deployment and use conditions

Not many projects fall under those categories

Re:Government IT projects (1)

sphealey (2855) | about 3 years ago | (#36704908)

> - a very clear definition of the problem, hence, the problem shouldn't be
> too big (think a Wordpad sized project)
> - a very thorough knowledge of the technology and its limitations (project
> that works in several web browsers? forget it)
> - almost no variation in deployment and use conditions
>
> Not many projects fall under those categories

And more generally: that is knowledge and wisdom that is typically only obtained by /doing the project/ - hands-on.

sPh

Re:Government IT projects (1)

Kagetsuki (1620613) | about 3 years ago | (#36705168)

I've worked on a lot of projects here in Japan and I can tell you with absolute confidence you are wrong. Most console games are developed under a Waterfall model for example. A lot of embedded software as well. The Waterfall model works if you have developers who actually implement according to the designs and do it well. The Waterfall works in getting products to market. I'm convinced this has a big part to do with social and developer culture in Japan.

Perhaps another factor is how the Waterfall model is implemented here. We have planners for example - they do all the planning and they deal with inconsistencies that arise during implementation. Planner work -under- designers, but planners work -for- programmers. Furthermore, the Waterfall model is just used for the core application - peripheral features and post-release enhancements [kakuchou - kaizen] are rarely handled using the Waterfall model. In addition the implementation step is usually broken up between departments with a set of joining critical-passes - basically becoming a separate process in and of itself.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

JamesP (688957) | about 3 years ago | (#36705344)

I've worked on a lot of projects here in Japan and I can tell you with absolute confidence you are wrong. Most console games are developed under a Waterfall model for example. A lot of embedded software as well. The Waterfall model works if you have developers who actually implement according to the designs and do it well.

Except you just proved me right.

Games: 20% code, 80% art. And that's true even for the first Super Mario games. And game engines are reused often.
Fixed platform (same thing for embedded sw). Working in a restricted platform is much easier in some aspects than, for example, a desktop program.

Reading the Mythical Man Month may explain it better.

The Waterfall works in getting products to market. I'm convinced this has a big part to do with social and developer culture in Japan.

Perhaps another factor is how the Waterfall model is implemented here. We have planners for example - they do all the planning and they deal with inconsistencies that arise during implementation. Planner work -under- designers, but planners work -for- programmers. Furthermore, the Waterfall model is just used for the core application - peripheral features and post-release enhancements [kakuchou - kaizen] are rarely handled using the Waterfall model. In addition the implementation step is usually broken up between departments with a set of joining critical-passes - basically becoming a separate process in and of itself.

That's very interesting. Yes, for core features Waterfall works better.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36705038)

The German model of problem solving is said to be different from the Anglo-Saxon model particularly in the way the Germans like to design for any possible outcome and the English and by extension, the Americans like to react to the unforeseen circumstances. SAP is an item of German culture, rather than that of the English one and the Waterfall is similarly more likely suited for the Germans rather that the Americans.

There's nothing wrong with the Waterfall model

The waterfall model was represented as a failed model for software development. I think the Kaizen, or continuous improvement should be closer to an iterative software process than a waterfall one. Therefore, I'm not sure how strong the influence of the waterfall model is in modern Japan. It depends of the field I would guess.

Re:Government IT projects (2)

St.Creed (853824) | about 3 years ago | (#36704782)

There have been succesfull projects with waterfall methods. There have been a lot of succesfull projects with fixed price contracts: for the last 15 years I've never done business on any other basis (both as buyer and as supplier) - if you know what you are doing it's not a problem at all.

Even competence of the people involved isn't an issue. In a project that big, there's bound to be a lot of nitwits but the competent people can usually work around them.

No, what kills this thing is that even with the Gods of IT themselves on this project, once the scope exceeds a given size (you can measure that in the budget, anything over 100 million will never succeed) the amount of time needed to build and confirm that requirements have been met, exceeds the time before those requirements change. Also, the more people on the project, the larger the amount of overhead and internal communication.

Now, what agile development says is exactly what Fred Brooks says: more people on a project makes it later.

What they need to do is to cut down the scope to something manageable. They can waterfall or Scrum it to their hearts content then, but size the scope first.

Re:Government IT projects (4, Informative)

bertok (226922) | about 3 years ago | (#36704420)

Well, I'm a consultant working primarily for government, and I can honestly say that those aren't the reasons why these projects fail.

Corruption in hiring is surprisingly rare in western countries, and usually involves only a small subset of the people on a large project. I've heard it's a serious problem in developing countries, but I've only seen it a few times here, and and I've only ever seen it lead to a project failure when the project team was only a handful of people.

You'd be surprised about the work ethic of consultants.

For some consulting organizations, there's so much work that they prefer to have their consultants finish projects quickly so that they can go on to other projects and hence satisfy all of their customers, not just some of them. Not turning up at all is a surefire way of losing a customer to your competition, which can go from nonexistent to serious in very little time if they suddenly start landing big projects.

More commonly, consulting is only a part of what a company does. Large vendors like SAP sell licenses, support contracts, and consulting separately. If one branch of the company starts annoying the customers (too expensive, slow, incompetent, etc...) then this drags down the results of other branches too, and then their executives become very angry and complain directly to the CEO. God help the consultant working for an organization that makes most of their profit from licenses if the fuck up a sales deal!

Lastly, consulting firms tend to hire better-than-average people, and those tend to be high achievers and motivated professionals. Delivering projects on time and on budget looks good on a CV, and can lead to even more lucrative positions.

I've seen enough projects that I've figured out that government contracts go over budget or time for several inter-related reasons:

- Ridiculous levels of risk aversion -- if there's no bonus or profit to be had, then no risk is worth it. This leads to some very stupid decisions, over-engineering, etc...
- Management overhead -- big bureaucracies ignore the cost of management overhead, because the only way to reduce it is to fire a bunch of managers, but management makes hiring and firing decisions! Almost nobody would ever fire themselves. Instead, managers rationalize the need for management. There's no arguing with people about useless processes, when the existence of that process, useful or not, keeps them employed.
- Conservative approach to IT -- a big project is hard enough, but when you also have to deal with decades old software and sometimes even hardware, the difficulty becomes astronomical. In quite recent times, I've come across all sorts of fun things in the core infrastructure of large organizations. For example, OS/2 is still in use. Novell NetWare refuses to die. I've seen Windows 95 as a server in a data center just recently. I did a lot of work on an enterprise DOS application just a couple of years ago. It's not just systems, but processes to. Why change anything, just because the software is completely different, and the hardware is six orders of magnitude bigger or faster?

So imagine being the consultant hired to rip up and replace 10s of millions of lines of code across hundreds of undocumented systems, most of which should have been cleansed with purifying fire decades ago, but you're not allowed to. Instead, you have to sit patiently through a never ending series of pointless meetings that serve only to prevent any bureaucrat from ever having to make a decision, or take any blame for anything.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

jrminter (1123885) | about 3 years ago | (#36705516)

Pretty good description of the environment in a large corporation too...

Re:Government IT projects (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36703952)

Read "Catch-22" and understand that little has changed.

I am posting this as a civilian, working in IT, for the US DoD.

It's not gov't, it's SAP (5, Insightful)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | about 3 years ago | (#36703974)

It fails just as often in the private sector, the difference being that there, the client usually goes bankrupt before you hear about it.

Re:It's not gov't, it's SAP (1)

rtaylor (70602) | about 3 years ago | (#36704050)

Indeed. Worked one of SBCs failed one-bill attempts. I have no idea what the total loss was but they lost $2B buying and later selling consulting firms who were pretty much dedicated to doing that piece of work.

Re:It's not gov't, it's SAP (1)

JamesP (688957) | about 3 years ago | (#36704358)

It happens with other corporate crap, like ClearCase.

If ClearCrap wasn't crap google would use it, simple as that.

Re:It's not gov't, it's SAP (1)

16K Ram Pack (690082) | about 3 years ago | (#36704604)

all "enterprise" tools or software that you can buy are overpriced shit. That's not an anti paid-for software comment. Stuff like Visual Studio is great, but is also used in smaller companies.

The most hateful examples are enterprise helpdesk systems. It's like someone designed them that just hated users. Bugzilla's less nasty (and still nasty), but at least it's free.

Re:It's not gov't, it's SAP (1)

JamesP (688957) | about 3 years ago | (#36704622)

You're 100% right.

Talking about 'enterprise helpdesk systems', I had the displeasure of using one that made Clearcase look like the best sw in the world.

Re:Government IT projects (2, Informative)

16K Ram Pack (690082) | about 3 years ago | (#36704002)

Because it's not their money, and they're not spending it upon themselves.

Milton Friedman identified 4 types of spending:

  • Spending your money on yourself. You'll get what you perceive is the best value.
  • Spending your money on someone else (like a present). You'll be quite careful how much you spend, but perhaps less careful about what it goes on
  • Spending other people's money on yourself (you're given a budget to buy a PC). You'll buy the best thing you can, but not care too much about value
  • Spending other people's money on someone else (most government spending). You don't care about how much is spent, nor do you care too much about what its spent on

I've done work on government projects and seen money thrown at projects that made absolutely no sense at all. Projects that just fizzled out or never got implemented. It doesn't happen in the competitive private sector. People do a project because it makes/saves money, and then make it work.

Re:Government IT projects (5, Insightful)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 3 years ago | (#36704098)

It doesn't happen in the competitive private sector.

Yes it does. You just don't get to hear about it either because it's confidential or because private sector waste isn't a good story.

People do a project because it makes/saves money, and then make it work.

I have worked on many projects in the private sector and heard about plenty more where the IT director has believed what a salesman told them and ended up with an absolute disaster. What you say might be true for SMBs but big organisations are not too different to the public sector.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

16K Ram Pack (690082) | about 3 years ago | (#36704214)

I have worked on many projects in the private sector and heard about plenty more where the IT director has believed what a salesman told them and ended up with an absolute disaster.

Yeah, but the difference is that they make it work. They hold the company to the contract, have clauses about non-delivery, that sort of thing. The government will just let stuff die.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 3 years ago | (#36704466)

For suitably small values of "work", and at a cost of a never ending death-march of fixes, workarounds and bodges.

Been there and seen it. I haven't actually done it, but I've cleared up the mess (or at least tried to) after other people have.

Re:Government IT projects (2)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 3 years ago | (#36705012)

You really have no idea do you? Plenty of private sector projects fail too after many years of incompetence and it may shock you to know but governments hold companies to contracts, have clauses about non-delivery, incentives for early completion that sort of thing. Come back when you've actually worked somewhere large rather than talking utter bollocks.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

SunTzuWarmaster (930093) | about 3 years ago | (#36704260)

Amen. "COMPANY wastes money on software that doesn't work!" is a terrible story, to which people respond "who cares". "GOVERNMENT wastes YOUR MONEY on software that doesn't work" is much better story.

Re:Government IT projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704016)

*Ministry of Defence

Re:Government IT projects (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 3 years ago | (#36704072)

I've worked for both the UK government and the private sector and the failure of large IT projects has one thing in common. Shite external contractors who promise the earth without knowing the first thing about what's actually required. It would be far better to have people who know the area doing the work, but for some reason senior managers all seem to believe their staff are less competent than any of the external companies who all have a well-documented record of uselessness. Private Eye [private-eye.co.uk] should be required reading for all senior executives and senior civil servants, so that they can't claim ignorance when someone like Capita lets them down.

Re:Government IT projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704474)

"I've worked for both the UK government and the private sector and the failure of large IT projects has one thing in common. Shite external contractors who promise the earth without knowing the first thing about what's actually required. It would be far better to have people who know the area doing the work, but for some reason senior managers all seem to believe their staff are less competent than any of the external companies who all have a well-documented record of uselessness."

One problem is that managers don't get the essential difference between things like custom IT and things like say, printing the business cards and the car fleet. You can outsource running the car fleet. You find a company doing the same things for dozens of other companies, they all want the same things, which means you have scalability, and therefore, it's cheaper to push your car fleet management out.

IT is like hairdressing. Most hairdressing companies are small, because it doesn't have economies of scale. If you create a hairdressing business that does 10000 heads a day, it would still cost as much per head as a hairdressing business that does 100 per day.

I've worked for one of the large cuntsultancies and worked with at least 3 of them. And the thing is that in terms of process, they don't scale either. You work on a site with a manager and a cocksucker account manager comes along occassionally. They don't scale their operation to do things like create common code libraries or processes or whatever. So when people see them as this "large company", they're getting fed bull. You might as well hire a small company.

Worst of all, they will just put out work to wherever it's cheapest, regardless of quality control. I've seen schoolboy errors in stuff that cost £600/day and not just the odd one, but lots of them, stuff that should never have gotten through.

Really, if you are big enough, and have the work for 2 or 3 developers, you should just hire them, because all that Accenture/Crap Gemini/IBM/Crapita will do is hire those same people and add on a large wedge

Re:Government IT projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704092)

What is it about government IT projects that makes them go so disastrously wrong? The UK government are no better at getting it right. The MOD* procurement system was a similar mess - over budget, and didn't do what it was set out to do.

* Ministry of Defense

Posting as AC... the reason why these projects go so badly is due to a combination of one (or more, mostly all) of the following:

  1. - They don't know what the fuck they are doing. Seriously, there is people there from the Sumerian clay tablets era, who have been in the same companies for decades never bothering to learn how to build systems. As long as they get a paycheck and claim to work for the government or a supposedly uber-tech contractor, they are happy.
  2. - They watch each other backs. When they fuck up, they just get moved somewhere else. Unlike the commercial sector, in the government, there are little consequences for fucking up a project in such a colossal manner. I mean, they can't demand accountability since it will imply that the major techno-clusterfuck that exploded in their own faces is in great part their opus magnum, the pinnacle of their technical achievement.
  3. - Contractors never face competition, only during the proposal phase. Once the project is granted to them, they have a near monopoly, so there are no market pressures to make shit work correctly and in time.
  4. - They are for the milking. Yes, they are. They stretch the projects for years on end. Even worse, sometimes they decide to burn all the money during the initial phases (when the contractor has very little expenses) just to get the project cancelled by the government before entering the manufacturing phases (which is where contractor's costs rise up.)

All the while we are told by management that we are responsible for the quality of what we do, for the soldier, the government blah blah blah. It's a repugnant business.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

Plugh (27537) | about 3 years ago | (#36704132)

This is not a fixable problem. Governments are simply not properly incentivized to be able to cope efficiently with large, complex projects. This is part of David Friedman's Machinery of Freedom [wikipedia.org] , essentially an argument for stateless anarco-capitalism. The full text of the book is available as a link off the wikipedia article. Worth a read.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

darjen (879890) | about 3 years ago | (#36704182)

Right on, great book. These people essentially have unlimited funds, thanks to the taxpayers. Why bother getting it right when you can just take more and more money anyway?

Re:Government IT projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704290)

Taxes are but a very small piece of the booty, the lion's share is from inflation (that is, Treasury bills for fiat currency, which are artificially valuable dollars backed by nothing but the paper on which it is printed).

Re:Government IT projects (2)

lucm (889690) | about 3 years ago | (#36704138)

Huge projects usually fail because they are deadline-oriented. From there everything goes down the drain because every bump on the road will cause the project managers to either :

1) compromise on the quality of the implementation, which leads to resistance from the people in charge of maintenance because they feel that problems are offloaded to their department. This actually initiates a downward spiral in quality and collaboration areas.

2) compromise on the number of features that are delivered, which leads to resistance from the project owner and will usually cause significant side effects as the impact of missing components is underevaluated.

Both alternatives lead to more bumps in the road, and the cycle starts again.

A deadline-oriented project also places consultants in a perfect position to do whatever they want, which is usually either repeating a solution that worked in another organization (without really knowing if this is a good fit in the new one) or taking the opportunity to learn something new that they can put on their resume. Whenever someone complains they have this magic wand called "deadline" which they can use to make all the restrictions (such as design patterns or IT best practices) go away.

When the deadline becomes a goal instead of a guideline, and when an organization is ready to let consultants call the shots instead of placing them in a controlled sandbox where they can bring value without creating chaos, then the project is doomed.

Re:Government IT projects (1)

Bert64 (520050) | about 3 years ago | (#36704174)

Because the system is grossly corrupt...
There are only a very small number of very large and highly bureaucratic consultancies who ever get picked to manage these projects, and they tend to have very little in the way of technical skills and a corporate culture that scares such people away.
They massively over charge, deliver extremely poor quality work safe in the knowledge that there are very few competitors all of which are equally incompetent so there's no danger of losing out.

Re:Government IT projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704228)

What is it about government IT projects that makes them go so disastrously wrong? The UK government are no better at getting it right. The MOD* procurement system was a similar mess - over budget, and didn't do what it was set out to do.

* Ministry of Defense

The problem is that it's a GOVERNMENT IT project. Can't wait til that obama care kicks in...

Re:Government IT projects (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | about 3 years ago | (#36704824)

Because this math "a $140 billion annual budget and serve nearly 80,000 users" makes sense to the government.

ITIOEWPA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36703774)

Clearly the Information Technology Investment Oversight Enhancement and Waste Prevention Act is defective. I mean, the initials don't even spell a word! ITIOEWPA? What the hell is that? Come on congress, put in some overtime and brainstorm 'til you come up with an legislative acronym that means something, and sort out this mess.

Re:ITIOEWPA? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 3 years ago | (#36704556)

It's a word, but not in English. It's Greek for "sit on your arses all day and hope Germany pays your bills".

Extremely difficult (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36703778)

This was to be expected. This is one of the first accounting systems ever where time and cost had to be exponential functions rather than fixed amounts.

Another SAP disaster (2)

CuteSteveJobs (1343851) | about 3 years ago | (#36703890)

In Australia a State Government used a ridiculously expensive "off the shelf" SAP payroll solution that turned into a complete disaster. A year later and staff still aren't being paid properly. Lots of finger pointing between IBM, SAP and Corptech who is the State Government's IT corporation. They paid $40M for software that didn't work, and still doesn't work.

Take that number in. $40M. Ridiculously overpriced even if it did work, but this doesn't even do that. Payroll isn't rocket science. A few competent programmers locked away for 6 months could do better. Far too much money is thrown at so-called 'enterprise software'.
http://www.itnews.com.au/News/218348,ibm-under-fire-for-qld-health-bungle.aspx [itnews.com.au]
http://www.arnnet.com.au/article/351650/ibm_says_queensland_health_sap_failure_its_fault/ [arnnet.com.au]
http://www.zdnet.com.au/qld-health-sap-woes-lead-to-cash-advances-339302381.htm [zdnet.com.au]
http://www.goldcoast.com.au/article/2010/05/07/215335_gold-coast-news.html [goldcoast.com.au]
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/australian-it/qld-health-pays-hefty-price-for-sick-payroll-system/story-e6frgakx-1225813063057 [theaustralian.com.au]
http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/351608/updated_qld_govt_blames_ibm_health_payroll_bungle/ [computerworld.com.au]

Re:Another SAP disaster (1)

JamesP (688957) | about 3 years ago | (#36704372)

What the government should do is sue all the contractors. Return the software and ask for damages. Lawyers are good at coming with bullshit numbers.

Sue them for 100x the value they got from the gov.

Not a big surprise - Implementing SAP is hard (1)

mvfranz (258949) | about 3 years ago | (#36703896)

Many SAP projects go over budget. It is a large complicated piece of software - which many do not understand. Like any vendor, the ease of installation is over sold by SAP and confirmed by implementors wanting the work.

The biggest issue that any implementation has is under estimating how much the business process will change.

I worked on a few implementations, the biggest failure was also a success. The system did exactly what the company wanted. However, the company did not understand it's own business and thus asked for the wrong features. Once implemented the company's operations came to a stand still as they could not follow the business process as implemented and was eventually bought by their biggest competitor.

I no-longer work with SAP, but I think it is a great product - just be sure you understand what your business process is and how that process will change once implemented in SAP. Rushing a project and taking shortcuts is a surefire way to end up with a failed project. Oh, and any project that lasts as many years of this, will have had 300% turnover of the implementation staff, so plenty of time will have been lost rolling consultants on/off the project.

Great product? (4, Funny)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | about 3 years ago | (#36703990)

- The user interface is the worst of any software product I've ever used, and I'm not exaggerating.

- The user documentation is even worse

- I'm told the developer documentation is worser still, esp. if you don't speak German.

- COBOL is so fucking awesome.

- It costs a leg, an arm, your first born and your left nuts. Oh and your soul.

Re:Great product? (1)

mvfranz (258949) | about 3 years ago | (#36704386)

- The user interface is the worst of any software product I've ever used, and I'm not exaggerating.

- The user documentation is even worse

- I'm told the developer documentation is worser still, esp. if you don't speak German.

- COBOL is so fucking awesome.

- It costs a leg, an arm, your first born and your left nuts. Oh and your soul.

- I have seen worse UIs - a proprietary X11 interface for one.
- the variable names are mostly in German, but once you have programmed in it, you learn what they are - very consistent usage within and across modules. There is English documentation provided by SAP.
- SAP is NOT written in COBOL. As someone else stated, it is C kernel with ABAP for the business language.
- it is expensive, but it is cheaper now than it was 5 years ago. Most of the cost is in paying people to do the implementation, and then support contracts. Much like every other enterprise software.

Re:Great product? (1)

St.Creed (853824) | about 3 years ago | (#36704906)

- I've seen worse UI's but only in free software. Never in something paid for.
- User documentation sucks
- Database field names are a joke (5 positions? come ON!)
- If the metadata in SAP doesn't match the actual use of the field, too bad.
- Modules are by and large crap, except for the ones like FiCo that have been developed over decades.

I've just had the misfortune of working on the SLcM module, which is the bastard child of the HR module, which itself is a demon-spawned object oriented abomination, created by what must be an automated implementation of a logical model designed by someone who hasn't a clue about relational modelling.

Also, the fact that this module only recognizes SAP technical keys and treats business keys as attributes, that can be valid for several technical keys at the same time, and each having their own timeline, creates a horrendous mess if you ever want any usefull management info out of it.

Another feature is where SAP hides the fact the database contains multiple overlapping timelines for attributes: they don't show them. You can even lose student grades this way. Joy.

No, SAP implementations should stick to FiCo, without customization. That's where it is really good and reliable. For everything else I'd highly recommend looking at alternatives.

Probably... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36703898)

They probably hired a big, fat consulting company like Accenture to implement SAP for them, who's in it to get even fatter by putting as many unqualified warm bodies on a contract as possible, rather than hiring a someone who will actually run it like a project and get out... someone who is actually concerned about the customer's best interests. One would hope that the Army would know better.

SAP is a huge piece of shit (2, Funny)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | about 3 years ago | (#36703966)

1. It's written in fucking COBOL

2. It's the vilest user interface I've ever seen. I have no idea how anyone could come up with something that bad.

3. C. O. B. O. L.

C and ABAP (3, Informative)

kleinesRaedchen (1676552) | about 3 years ago | (#36704102)

The SAP R/3 kernel is written in C. The application layer is written in ABAP and can be extended in ABAP or Java. So, the the claim with COBOL is BS.

Re:C and ABAP (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704242)

That said, his second point is very true. I work for McKesson and we use SAP. Evidently when we first went live on it a few years back, all the error messages that would pop up were still in GERMAN. The UI is incredibly unintuitive. I have a tech background and even I found the UI cumbersome and difficult to use. I've seen less tech-savvy coworkers learn SAP and it's a complete nightmare.

The worst part about SAP (at my company) is they rolled out a CRM piece for it. We had previously been using Vantive/Sage which, although kind of old and not the best, at least worked reasonably well. I was in the first group of people getting training for the new SAP CRM tool. I literally spent two days in the training room breaking the program and submitting error reports back to the coders of this POS. I repeated over and over to the SAP trainers, my coworkers, and my managers that this thing was NOT ready to go live and we would suffer serious productivity issues should they continue with the implementation. I work for a corporation, so obviously I was ignored, the CRM tool was rolled out, and productivity dived. Even now, two years later, the thing still suffers from glitches and is much slower than our old system.

I honestly think that the only reason SAP is implemented is because company executives see those ads for it in airports and think, "well if company X uses SAP, then is MUST be good! I need to get that for my company too. I'll be a hero and get a nice, fat bonus!"

Posted anonymously to protect my job. I can't find the link, but McKesson is the same company that slashdot reported a couple of years ago about implementing a policy on their internal social network program (that you had to accept) indicating that we, as employees, agree to not post anything about them online in any forum, social network, blog, etc.

Re:C and ABAP (1)

FreelanceWizard (889712) | about 3 years ago | (#36705124)

ABAP is sufficiently similar to COBOL that I think it'd be fair to call it a relative in the same language family.

And if you think the SAP user interface is bad, may I introduce you to BAAN or Daly & Wolcott, both of which make SAP look like god's own gift to UIs?

Re:SAP is a huge piece of shit (2)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 3 years ago | (#36704110)

Gasp it's written in something that has a proven track record of working and being scalable. For fuck's sake rewrite it in Ruby on Rails immediately!

Re:SAP is a huge piece of shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704164)

And you've never done a comparison against its competitors to see TRUE crap in action. (My work picked one of those other ones)

SAP is worse than anything M$ (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36703976)

My company recently switched to SAP... it more than doubled the time it takes us to do anything. that software is garbage, yet people keep buying into it. they have great salespeople.

Now the US army is switching to it? The military will shut down. We joke that the Germans (it is german software) are getting the world back for beating them in WWII.

You can't understand how bad this software is until you actually see it.

Re:SAP is worse than anything M$ (2)

16K Ram Pack (690082) | about 3 years ago | (#36705094)

MS stuff is like swimming in a pool of golden unicorn tears compared to most "enterprise software". The reason is quite simple: a lot of small companies use MS stuff, and if it was as hideous as most "enterprise" software, people wouldn't buy it or upgrade.

In enterprises, the purchasing decisions are made by people who don't use it day-in-day-out. They look at things like the reporting module, see that's great and buy it. I worked in an organisation that dumped a working in-house change control system for a hideous IBM system.

$30K per user (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704028)

and still overbudget! - ah to be in government...

Re:$30K per user (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 3 years ago | (#36704104)

Or a big bank, or a big insurance company, or a big oil company.

Re:$30K per user (1)

Surt (22457) | about 3 years ago | (#36704926)

Well, at least in the insurance industry it looks like they're all wising up and getting off of SAP/Accenture these days.

Editors, there's no need to repeat yourselves (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704064)

"The Army's $2.4 billion SAP project is delayed, over budget, and, once implemented may not even meet its original objectives"

Surely "The Army's $2.4 billion SAP project is a SAP project" would have been sufficient, guys. ;)

Haha (2)

Zedrick (764028) | about 3 years ago | (#36704108)

Haha, SAP.... :-/

(mod me +5 insightful, I used SAP for years and promise that I deserve it based on the short but very insightful comment/review above)

No surprise.. (1)

Bert64 (520050) | about 3 years ago | (#36704148)

Has there ever been an implementation of SAP that didn't go massively budget and fail to meet its initial goals?

Re:No surprise.. (2)

FreelanceWizard (889712) | about 3 years ago | (#36705110)

My company runs SAP as its ERP system, and the project was only a little late -- but on budget and met its initial goals. We were migrating from Daly & Wolcott on an AS/400. Then again, we only have about 260 employees, and we did a fair amount of the work using our own people. We didn't just foist the whole thing off on consultants, as is most often the way.

As someone who writes integration code with ERP systems, I can say that for all the problems SAP has, it's not nearly as terrible as others. I've worked with CORRIDOR, BAAN, and Quantum Control MaxDB, and all of them are terrible, horrible monstrosities that barely work, are wildly oversold, have terrible user interfaces, are mostly undocumented or improperly documented, and are apparently designed to be as difficult to interact with as possible. Add to that stupid programming decisions (CORRIDOR uses materialized views for all DB work as opposed to stored procedures; Quantum Control loads DLLs by reading them into memory as data then jumping to their entry points, causing massive issues with DEP and weird crashes periodically) and it's amazing anyone buys these pieces of crap. By comparison, SAP is a thing of pure beauty, with its (usually) correct documentation, rock-solid stability, and actual supported interface points (RFC and IDOC).

The problem is that ERP systems all stink. SAP just happens to stink the least.

What's there to worry about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704266)

I'll admit that I don't know the ins and outs of government contracts, but it seems reasonable to assume that a thorough investigation will take place. If the consultants/contractors are found to be at fault then the cost overruns will come out of their pocket. Obviously the goal of all civil servants is to avoid unduly burdening tax payers. If the fault lies on the federal side of things then I'm sure that the people responsible will be dealt with accordingly.

There, nothing to worry about. It'll all be sorted out before teatime.

You think they could have learned from Navy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704790)

Navy is sort of making it work after years, but everyone still hates it. I attended an acquisition class and SAP was used repeatedly as an example of what not to do, and how not to write requirements. The requirements were written along the lines of "Vendor A will integrate software B to interface with Army Supply system C" instead of "Guy in Afghanistan orders a wheel, and the order is processed and he gets his part".

At least it wasn't Salesforce.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704882)

If it was then nothing would have been done even after all this time.

Back to Sap. It has its own way of doing things. If you don't follow that methodology then you will fail miserably.
Then RFC Calls to a BAPI are handled differently to accessing it from an interactive session.
Don't talk to me about BAPI Caching sessions.
SAP BW Licensing? If you thought MS-Office & Windows was money for old rope, think again. They ain't got nothing on that. $100K per connection good enough for you?

SAP? A total piece of crap.

Business process more important than IDE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#36704892)

If a fortune 500 company (not your web startup) can implement and maintain it's ERP processes faster with another software package I'd like to see them try.

As for everything outside of core ERP, SAP is not the best.

Wow (1)

brilanon (1121645) | about 3 years ago | (#36705208)

What the fuck is SAP

Re:Wow (1)

sphealey (2855) | about 3 years ago | (#36705380)

There's this thing out there called "business", which tends to use software to assist with running its day-to-day activities. You might want to Google a bit along those lines - I hear these "business" thingies might hire some people from time to time.

sPh

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