CityTime: Good, Fast, Cheap: Choose None of the Above.

This is not what you want your project closeout meeting to look like!

Dr. Hoopes’ syllabus said that we could discuss “dramatic failures” on the blog, and when I hear “dramatic failures” in the context of IT projects, I immediately think of CityTime.

For those that are unfamiliar with CityTime, it began in 1998 as a $63 million program to implement a timesheet and payroll system for the roughly 320,000 employees of the City of New York.  SAIC was the prime contractor.  The project was considered finished in 2011 after spending more than $700 million (vs. a $63 million budget) and with only about half of city workers using the system.

The CityTime project had massive problems with fraud.  As the US Attorney said “Fraud permeated virtually every level” of CityTime.  Ultimately, SAIC was forced into a $500 million disgorgement and several people involved were convicted of a number of offenses, including $25 million in kickbacks to a city employee.  Ironically, one of goals of CityTime was to reduce fraud through biometric identification of city employees.

Much of the media coverage of CityTime has been focused on the criminal activities.  But CityTime would have been a disaster even without the fraud, and I think it is worth looking at how the city could have avoided this disaster with better project management.  You shouldn’t be able to have a 900% budget overrun without triggering a few red flags somewhere.

One of the better sources I’ve found for a postmortem analysis was a lessons learned document created by the NYC Department of Investigation released in July of 2014.  The document is well worth reading, but a quick summary of the findings is:

  1. The City failed to properly supervise the CityTime project due to its inadequate executive oversight and lack of expertise in management of a large-scale technology project.
  2. The City failed to assign an integrity monitor supervised by an independent agency such as DOI.
  3. The City did not properly evaluate the expanded scope of CityTime or contract amendments that increased the costs of the project.
  4. The City failed to hold contractors accountable for their inability to provide deliverables on schedule and within budget.
  5. The City failed to conduct sufficient background investigations on contractors and subcontractors that performed a significant portion of work on the project.
  6. The City failed to plan for future City control over management and maintenance of the completed project.

The DOI document makes recommendations that I’ll leave for you to look up in the report.  Or feel free to propose your own recommendations by replying to this.

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