As I noted in June, the US government announced sweeping reviews of major government IT projects, especially those designated as high-risk.
In late July, the US Federal government's Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra sent a memo to government departments and agencies instructing them to identify their high risk-IT projects, develop improvement plans for those projects, and be prepared to discussed those plans with him in a "TechStat" accountability review session before the end of November.
Over the past few weeks, CIO Kundra has been reviewing these department and agency identified high risk-IT projects. Yesterday, he announced that 26 of them, worth over $30 billion, will be intensely reviewed to see whether they will be continued to be funded.
According to this story at Government Executive, CIO Kundra says he is not aiming to automatically cancel these projects:
"This isn't killing projects... It's about making them work better and faster."
One of the most visible on the list is the FBI's Sentinel project which is the replacement for the infamous Virtual Case File aka Trilogy system. Sentinel was originally estimated to cost $425 million and be completed by late last year; it is now estimated to cost at least $556.9 and be "completed" sometime in 2011 - or later. No one seem to know for sure, since the project is currently being replanned, once more.
In fact, the only thing the FBI Director Robert Muellerpromised Congress a few weeks ago in regard to Sentinel's status is that it won't cost $1 billion to complete, although no one could tell if he had his fingers crossed when he said it.
If you remember, when Sentinel was started, the FBI promised that it had thoroughly learned its lessons from the VCF fiasco. Quoting from a Washington Poststory from 2006:
"A previous effort, dubbed Trilogy, led to successful hardware upgrades and thousands of new PCs, but the final phase -- a software system called the Virtual Case File -- was abandoned last year amid cost overruns and management problems."
"The Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, warned in a report issued Monday that the FBI is at risk of repeating several of the same mistakes with Sentinel. The review raised concerns about management turnover and weak cost controls."
"But [FBI CIO] Azmi told reporters yesterday that the FBI has included an aggressive system of audits, outside management review and financial controls to guard against any problems."
" 'We have a number of controls in place to ensure that this program is not following in Trilogy's footsteps,' Azmi said."
It is true that Sentinel is not following Trilogy's footsteps to failure: it is following its own.
I humbly suggest that CIO Kundra keep in mind not only what happened on the VCF project but what has happened with Sentinel, despite all the promises made that it would be a showcase IT project. Given all those promises, Sentinel should not be on CIO Kundra's list of the dubious IT-26.
Regardless of the promises made by the government agencies or departments or contractors involved in the 26, a more than healthy dose of skepticism is needed when reviewing their IT project get-well plans.
In fact, if a dubious IT-26 project can only be made "better and faster" by taking on even more risk, then erring on the side of canceling it is the best course of action. Reinforcing failure is never a good strategy.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.