back to article Failed school intranet project spent AU$1.4m on launch party before crashing and burning

Yet another of Australia's state education departments is mired in allegations of misdeeds, with the state of Victoria's failed Ultranet project now the focus of a corruption inquiry. The project was yet-another grand plan to launch a statewide single portal to connect everybody – teachers, students and parents. It started …

  1. Roq D. Kasba

    $60M blimey, $240M bloody hell

    Even at $60M, I'd question its value, and also query why it was so dear. If this is an Oracle product, isn't it just configuring? Or isn't it enough of a product to actually call a product, requiring extensive development work?

    And even if it works perfectly, $60M portal for teachers, pupils and parents for just one state, not even the whole country? How many photocopied letters home is it supposed to replace?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Choosing Oracle..

    ..was their first mistake

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Choosing Oracle..

      Beat me to it. Up voted.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Choosing Oracle..

        Pupils, teachers and parents were not communicating effectively - we had a problem.

        We brought in an Oracle system, now we have two problems.

    2. Fatman
      Joke

      Re: Choosing Oracle..

      After all, Larry needed some funds to go island shopping.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/28/magazine/larry-ellison-island-hawaii.html

      1. phuzz Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Choosing Oracle..

        There's plenty of islands off the coast of Australia, wouldn't it have been cheaper just to give him one of those?

        (And just don't mention the snakes, spiders, jellyfish, sharks, crocs, dropbears or locals until he delivers...)

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Learning Management obviously didn't manage to learn.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    The project was a total sucess

    "By 2012, Victoria's auditor-general found the project cost had nearly tripled to $180 million"

    A total sucess then. They managed to keep the gravy train rolling for seven years and blow $180 million before anyone noticed. Goverment IT projects generally cost three times as much and takes twice as long as the original estimate and of course the delivered system doesn't function.

  5. Anonymous Curd

    A $1.4M party?

    I've been in consultancy for a while now, and even I must say, morals aside, bravo for the absolute testicles to try (and get away with) that one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      cojones

      Best I've even had was a dinner cruise on a private yacht on Sydney harbour, with return flights.

      Oh, and flown across country for the annual xmas party...

  6. Bob Dole (tm)
    Facepalm

    *sigh*

    When will people learn:

    - A Consultants number one priority is to bill the client. The "good" ones will even bill an hour each day just keeping the bill up to date.

    - Projects which are not fixed cost will always balloon.

    - Projects that are paid upfront (or feature a large down payment) will require more money.

    - Projects that are paid on a schedule, will see the schedules slip for as long as the money keeps coming in. There's also an amazing ability to start delivering on time when the money stops flowing.

    - Projects whose details are so murky that you require an unknown number of hours just to determine the extent of the actual cost are always doomed to failure.

    - Projects that take longer than 6 months will always go well beyond the predicted dates. Hint: software consultants are notoriously optimistic when creating that initial cost analysis and incredibly pessimistic when it comes to actually delivering.

    The solution here is for governments to stop accepting software contracts that aren't 100% fixed bid. By fixed I mean "It will cost $X and not one penny more and payment won't be made until exactly what's been agreed upon has been delivered." The second part of this solution is to stop trying to build these giant uber do everything systems in which everyone + dog have a say in how it works. If you have a project, appoint a single project lead that makes the judgement call on what goes into the thing *before* it's put out for bid. If you can't do this then you aren't fit to run a software project.

    Good grief.

    Yes, I am in the computer industry. I have a long and interesting history in the world of consultancy and large software product "integrations". In every single case the companies I worked for milked every dollar they possibly could out of the client. Often intentionally delaying deliverables for mundane and completely avoidable reasons.

    I've also been in a great number of situations in which I was engaged to do work where requirements changed with every deliverable because, well, the client managed the project by committee and couldn't control their own people. I billed those clients mercilessly. A fool and their money....

    1. Bob Dole (tm)

      Re: *sigh*

      BTW, that advice should have been exactly what Boston Consulting delivered to the NSW government - and it should have been handled over lunch. The fact they spent $850,000 for someone to take a few months writing a report means the lesson has yet to be learned.

    2. Winkypop Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: *sigh*

      Collective noun for consultants: A shyster

      1. Roq D. Kasba

        Re: *sigh*

        <consultancy> doesn't work for you, they work for them. Routinely misunderstood in a world where mere competency is well above the population average.

        Assuming there is a reason why the actual delivery isn't carried out in-house, a partial mitigation is to get rival companies on either half of the equation - specifying and delivering. They know each other's tricks, and will race to hold the other accountable. And, if you structure the money and deliverables right, you can avoid some finger pointing and make the most cost effective route for either side to do their job and get out.

    3. Triggerfish

      Re: *sigh* @Bob

      Your rules are so true, and then I see goverment use project managers and consultants from the same company who are selling the kit/solution to run the project and budget. Gobsmacking really.

    4. MonkeyCee

      Re: *sigh*

      "I've also been in a great number of situations in which I was engaged to do work where requirements changed with every deliverable because, well, the client managed the project by committee and couldn't control their own people. I billed those clients mercilessly. A fool and their money...."

      Isn't that the crux of most of these massive public sector IT cockups? Terrible requirements engineering, constant changes to spec, and the hope that the rules don't really apply since that's why someone gets a job in public sector IT.

      I've had the odd client doing the constant requirements changes. Since I'm usually only brought in because things are fucking up, I get to say that's either causing or exasperating the issues, and if they don't stop, then I quit. It's an even split for those that got some more control over their requirements, and the ones that insisted I needed to be "more agile".

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: *sigh*

        I'd say its a combination of both. From the Gov dept, not a clear idea of what they want to do, ruined by comitee, politics or lack of farsightedness, combined with a seemning memory loss of what happened on the previous projects when they go out of scope, e.g extra charges all round.

        But also they really do often hire companies and have the PM's from the same company complete conflict of interest. I have sat in a room with the head of a company that supplies the gov, lets say they ryhme with Ju Jitsu, who said he loves these sort of contracts because they can steer the client towards what they want to do for the client. I am guessing he did not mean with complete altruism to make things the best for them the customer, rather than make profit and increse his share bonus.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Effective parasites must avoid killing their host

    Which is why govt contracts are simply the best - forcibly watered by the sweat of the whole nation the host simply cannot die. At worst the birthing pains of the successor project may temporarily dislodge the current parasite, leaving the teats briefly exposed for a rival firm to latch onto.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Laughing

    The funny bit is that I work for an Australian IT company that provides configurable software for various sectors - and Education is one of them. We'll even provide a cloud-based version of it if the client is interested.

    And yes, we do fixed-price; and yes, the requirements are part of the contract.

    Anonymous, for obvious reasons.

  9. glen waverley

    Australian as she is spoke

    "... sent more than $500 million to the bottom of the ocean"

    Shirley the correct usage in Oz english is "... sent ... to bottom of the harbour"?

    1. Morrie Wyatt
      Pint

      Re: Australian as she is spoke

      Nah, more like to to the bottom of the esky.

      Now the grog's all gone and everybody's pissed!

  10. Phil Kingston

    There has to be better oversight of these kind of projects.

    Perhaps I should submit a proposal to build them a system to keep an eye on all government IT projects nationwide. Reckon I could cobble something together for $77.4 million*.

    * Payment for first hour's consultation and resulting project outline only, cost of deliverables subject to separate invoicing. Exclusive of the $5 million set-up fees and kick-off event which will see Kylie & Jason reunited on stage.

  11. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    questions of corruption aside....

    How does one go about getting one of these stupidly huge contracts that can triple in costs?

    I'm sure I could I can provide something that fails just as well for a quarter of the price.... And still leave everyone feeling not so ripped off (and my private jet and gold plated home would thank-you too)

    1. Roq D. Kasba

      Re: questions of corruption aside....

      Apparently by offering shares in your company to the spending committee. Seems pretty simple and fucking bent, but there we go.

    2. Bob Dole (tm)

      Re: questions of corruption aside....

      >>How does one go about getting one of these stupidly huge contracts that can triple in costs?

      There are two generally known ways to snag a government contract. The first is to have something to sell and constantly call on these people until you get enough interest that they "put it out to bid". It helps to take people to lunch then spend time talking about their hobbies and how your stuff will help them have more free time....

      If you did your job right then you're the one that actually writes the RFP (Request For Proposal). Which means you can include certain intentionally obtuse terminology and requirements that you know your competitors will have a tough time providing. Most government employees only too happily allow the vendors to write the RFPs. It gets much easier if you can somehow write the RFP in a way that your company is a sole source provider. After the bids are collected, yours will score highest on the technical merits so it's just a matter of making the pricing "acceptable".

      The second, and admittedly more difficult, way of doing this is to watch for RFP postings. Hopefully you know your industry well enough to get past the language provided by the vendor that started the process (see above) and you have the ability to either provide for the odd requirements or can dance well enough. The really important part is that you need to be far more likable than the other company which is really hard to do at this stage as, often, communication is very limited by law. Also, actually read the RFP and follow it's (sometimes silly) instructions. If it says they need 10 white and 2 green three ring binders, then do that. Still, the odds of winning here are pretty low.

  12. RIBrsiq
    Facepalm

    I hope that the party was a resounding success, at least.

  13. BurnT'offering

    Now I know what to procure

    in order to have a hell of a leaving party

  14. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Have I understood this right...?

    "That process was abandoned because nobody could get their price under the $100 million-mark.

    .........After a second tender in 2008, a company called CSG (briefly suspended from the process but re-admitted) landed the $60.5 million contract. By 2012,"

    So there was a bidding process that said it would cost >$100m.

    Then they tried again (why?) and a company that was already open to mistrust comes along and says they can do it for half of that. So you give them a contract.

    Would you even have your central heating fitted on that basis?

    And the project wasn't tied down to a cost guarantee.

    Ditto re central heating.

    And no one seems to have been watching this and asking awkward questions?

    Not the central government, the state government, the local councils or whatever they have there, the press. No one noticed hundreds of millions of (Aus) dollars being spent like this?

  15. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    dancers

    The pitcher Tug McGraw supposedly said that he spent 80% of his earnings on whiskey and women; the other 20% he wasted.

  16. herman Silver badge

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    1. Neoc

      Have a banana.

  17. Graham Marsden
    Holmes

    "after he left the department, he took a job with CSG"

    Ah, the good old revolving door! Step out of a job in a Government Department which has just pissed away millions of pounds (or whatever) of public money, straight into a job or "Directorship" with the company that all that money was paid to.

    Of course it's just a co-incidence...

  18. Stevie

    Bah!

    I had no idea the Aussie Taxpayer was so afluent and forgiving.

    Luckily for those responsible transportation will not be on the table when sentences start being given out, assuming anyone is ever brought to task for this nonsense.

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