If this was somewhere in Europe or the US, the international commentators would be all over it, but as it’s Africa only those of us living here are the ones making a fuss. I am talking about the Johannesburg City Council’s SAP-based billing system, Programme Phakama, and the point in question is how do you define project success or failure, something that Michael Krigsman covers frequently.
The goals of the Phakama programme were to centralise the city’s billing databases and replace multiple, disparate IT systems, in order to improve accuracy and completeness of the billing and invoicing process, and improve levels of collection and client service. Land information systems would also be integrated into the billing system, allowing the city to bill residents according to the correct valuation and usage - Joburg promises billing progress.
At the end of June, the city council announced that it had been awarded a SAP Quality Award for the successful implementation of the programme. The problem is that only the city council seems to believe this has been a successful project. Earlier this year, problems were being reported about the ERP implementation. When SAP was questioned about the award, the response was that the city “was nominated because of its clear governance policy and for implementing the project on time. It competed against 19 other companies in Africa for this award.”
That sounds to me like the criteria for project success were based primarily on budget and on-time measures, and that other issues around data quality and customer service were not really considered.
According the online article, SAP fails to explain award, opposition councilors “find it difficult to understand how the system picked up the award.” Since the end of July, there are have further articles on the problems resulting from the project, culminating in a recent article “Reputation suicide: SAP’s presentation of a Quality Award to the COJ’s billing system must mean it does not want to look like a high-standard, sane company anymore.”
South Africa has just completed a ‘really mega-project’ called FIFA 2010 South Africa, which 99.9% of people believe was highly successful and showed that we could deliver on all the important metrics – time, budget, quality, safety, service. It’s a pity that a project that affects thousands of people in Johannesburg did not have the same project management and oversight. There are similarities to Home Affairs IT project failure, and it leaves me concerned that management of major IT projects in South Africa does not show the same level of skill and attention that big projects like FIFA 2010 had.
On the other hand, big IT projects fail all over the world, as Michael Krigsman continually points out, so maybe we shouldn’t feel too bad.