back to article English county council blasted for 'inept project management' in delayed SAP replacement

A Surrey councillor has slammed his county council's £1bn-budget effort to replace its ERP system, describing it as "inept project management." Resources and Performance Select Committee chairman Steven McCormick told a council meeting the public body was mismanaging taxpayers' money by overpaying £3.2m on a new Unit4-based …

  1. spireite Silver badge
    Unhappy

    4m costs £3.2m ?

    Really?

    If any project I was on accumulated that sort of extra cost (as a %) for another 4 months - 18 weeks of work - i'd expect to be out the door pronto with a size 9 bootprint on my arse.

    But, of course we all know that county officials don't seem to have a personal cost to their decisions.

    I actually live in Surrey, and the investments in things like ... roads... in my part of it has definitely gone downhill (I'm a stones throw from Virginia Water - massive houses round there - Mansion et al, and a few Ruski oligarchs) . For what is probably the richest, or certainly one of, county in England - I don't see where the money is being spent.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: 4m costs £3.2m ?

      Well, it depends on why the costs grew. A company I worked for bid a job and the bid team was told in no uncertain terms that it was a "must win" project - more for pride that any other good reason. We won the job at a price well below that which we could make money at, and that was even assuming it was managed well on both our and the client side. It was well into the red at the project kick off meeting.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        That's hardly the same problem. The company decided to lose money. It can be strategically justified.

        The council did not actually choose to lose money.

        Of course it was incompetent, but hey, it's a council, not private business.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Conservative.

    "I don't see where the money is being spent."

    It's not - probably. They don't have to "earn" it, so why take any actual responsibility for spending it; and why on Earth would they spend public money on pragmatically and visibly improving things for the actual public anyway. The finance bods are probably hoarding it or, similar to the Iceland fiasco, "investing" it into dodgy schemes because everyone wants to be a hot shot hedge fund manager right? And to gain those bragging rights down the golf club.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "The application supplier assured the southern-England council these changes could be accommodated"

    Okay, point 1 : the application supplier lied. What a surprise.

    Point 2 : the application supplier mismanaged the project. Everybody knows that you accept a project on a given list of points. Anything else is punted on to the v1.1 to-do list.

    Well, if you know how to run a project, that is.

    1. Potemkine! Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: "The application supplier assured the southern-England..."

      Anything else is punted on to the v1.1 to-do list.

      But but but.... aren't all project Agile nowadays? You know, this method to deal with ever changing specs which is so successful? (see icon)

  4. Danie

    And to also remember that this is just getting tyhe data into this cloud service. At some point after the contract expires it has to come out again and migrate elsewhere. One hopes that project management will run better...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Maybe now's the time to get started on that.

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Perhaps they should have told HR to boot itself out and replace itself with one that could competently work out what it needed.

  6. SecretSonOfHG

    Still reinventing the wheel from scratch

    What I find incredible is how all these councils, hospitals, etc keep re-inventing the same wheel over and over again. Creating a new ERP implementation for a council should be as easy as: (1) find the council with a working ERP implementation that has the closest business processes and rules as your own (2) get that council source code and parametrization and isntall a fresh instance (3) change your instance to comply where your requirements are different (4) everyone wins: council gets a much quicker implementation and saves taxpayer money.

    On second thought, I see two problems with this approach: if there is nobody yet at step (1) you don't have anything to start from and you are then not re-inventing but inventing. But there should be at least one, right? And yes, you could save a lot of money on external suppliers. Which is not good for external suppliers. So no, not everyone wins.

    1. The Axe

      Re: Still reinventing the wheel from scratch

      Alternatively, all councils should use the same business processes. They all do the same job. Then get one specification that any supplier can use. And then it can be shared between councils thereby cutting costs.

      1. Rob Daglish Bronze badge

        Re: Still reinventing the wheel from scratch

        Have you worked in a council? There’s a very definite “we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way” vibe in the ones I’ve dealt with, and change is seen as a bad thing, because it implies you’re doing something wrong.

        Add in a mix of different types, responsibilities and sizes of council, plus the fact you can’t politically cooperate with neighbouring councils if they’re a different party to you, and it’s cat herding time…

      2. BearishTendencies

        Re: Still reinventing the wheel from scratch

        Doesn't work. See the 'One Oracle' shared service in London for how well it doesn't work.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Still reinventing the wheel from scratch

      Not ERP, but our council bought another public-facing system a few years ago. 1 - find some else using it and talk to / visit them - check. 2 - Recommend their successful dvpt and rollout plan for our project - check. 3 - get told "they might have had a dedicated project team for a year plus 1 FTE for post-rollout issues and ongoing development, but you, you and you have got 3 months to do it here and you need to fit it amongst all your normal work" - check. 4 - no-one wins.

    3. The Basis of everything is...

      Re: Still reinventing the wheel from scratch

      I know of a couple of companies that claimed a "local authority template" for ERP, and at least a few attempts at implementing. Sharing ideas and source code / config / customization generally wasn't an issue.

      Changing the template to local requirements is generally where it all went wrong, especially where it was a shared service between a group of authorities and each had their own way of detail working and nobody was willing to give way on the finer details e.g. line-item names on payslips, field labels on data-entry forms. End result is paralysis as the customer cannot agree what they want and deadlines approach and go whooshing by. And that's before the union "we want money to change working condtions" mob got involved.

      And even when they were all agreeing enough to go live, after a few years and a change of management or political control and then previous agreements were revoked 'cos basically politics.

      As for being a supplier, the last thing anyone wants is to be stuck on a project with the Customer From Hell. I have had people tell me to my face that I'm only in it for the money, and the look of hatred when I pointed out they didn't work for free either was a joy to behold. It came as a surprise to them that ERP people actually wanted to do a good job to the best of their ability and that spending weeks on end in cheap hotels away from friends and family is not actually a good way to live.

      Bootnote: There are also some excellent local authority ERP implementations. But of course you never hear about them 'cos they just quietly get on with the job without any fuss or drama. Same products, different management. Need I say more?

  7. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    In April and June last year, new requirements from the HR department continued to arrive after the main software build was complete.

    And these requirements were accepted ... why? It's not as if HR departments actually do anything useful.

  8. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Hardly anything new from SCC

    Seriously, the amount of "cosy relationships" and unaccountability within this particular council defies belief

    I had an interesting day out with an internal auditor in 2016 inspecting a bunch of infrastructure on an investigation into some aspects of Highways contracting - which led to an interesting draft report.

    three months later that auditor no longer worked for SCC and the council denied that such an investigation had ever taken place. Unfortunately for them I had an email trail, video of the day out and whilst I hadn't been given a copy of the draft, I'd taken photos of it with my phone whilst reading it.

    This is also a council which copied the "homes for votes" gerrymandering that Westminster was involved in. Unlike Westminster, the makeup of the council didn't change and there was never an investigation into the practice

  9. ColinPa Silver badge

    Changing the requirements after coding complete...

    "In April and June last year, new requirements from the HR department continued to arrive after the main software build was complete."

    Sounds like they didnt know what they wanted till they saw what they were getting. It sounds like "I I know it is what I asked for, but that isn't what I meant"

    1. breakfast

      Re: Changing the requirements after coding complete...

      Precisely the kind of thing an agile process is supposed to help with, but you can't say an agile project will hit "finished" by a specific deadline because you don't know, so a lot of more conservative organisations won't touch it. What they don't appreciate is that the difference with agile is that it's honest about the unpredictability, not that that other approaches are predictable. Real life organisations benefit more from being able to adapt software to their needs as they understand them than they do from having something that doesn't match what they need delivered before the end of the fiscal year, but try explaining that to a finance director.

      Can't help but feel if they had employed a small dev team of their own- even if they were paying them very competitively- they'd have ended up with better results, under better control, sooner, for far less money.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Changing the requirements after coding complete...

        Not in my experience... Agile tends to deliver a bicycle without brakes or handle bars as they'll come in the next iteration... and then the project falls apart as it slowly dawns on all concerned that they can't turn the bike into the lorry which was what was actually needed. :-)

        Elements of Agile can work but you need to make sure you don't throw out everything from your project manager's handbook and you need to make sure that you don't turn it into a religion.

      2. Tilda Rice

        Re: Changing the requirements after coding complete...

        Agreed. Agile is for new products with a broad conceptual idea. Its why the concept of minimum viable product exists.

        But agile is being applied by people who think they are trendy, and want to avoid the dull rigour of waterfall. "yes yes, just let me get on with it - trust me I'm an expert".

        Totally agree this would have been better with a traditional approach.

        Also, budget for 25k stick in 20% contingency its an ERP gig after all. When are they _ever_ on time/budget?

        1. spireite Silver badge

          Re: Changing the requirements after coding complete...

          As someone regualrly putting up with agile, I can honestly say I've never seen a successful project from it.

  10. Dave 15 Silver badge

    inept county council... what a shock

    Bet the supplier isnt even a UK based one

    If the supplier has agreed to produce functionality A by time B and failed why the hell is extra money being paid? The council should (if the contract was properly negotiated) be getting a compensation payment. If the council cant make up its mind about functionality then it is reasonable to accept an increased cost for your lack of clarity but again that is piss poor management starting with clearly failing to get the requirements right.

    If this is a t&m contract then again we are in the realms of what richard cranium at the council thought this was ok?

  11. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

    "council's £1bn-budget effort"

    Just be clear, how much money are they spending to spend £1bn pound?

  12. TeeCee Gold badge
    Facepalm

    Seriously?

    A public sector IT project has ballooning costs, no end in sight and is being run by incompetent muppets?

    How is this news?

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