Feb 5, 2013

Is the Change the Project?




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(Large Government Agency) has begun one of the largest government IT projects in (Country).

(Large Government Agency) has a strong desire to move into the future, provide more efficient and user friendly systems with web and mobile interfaces, and move from 2nd generation code based systems (requiring over 150 maintenance programmers) to a 5th generation rules and workflow based system.

Unfortunately failure to upgrade their software environment and approach in the past left them with not only 2nd generation code and user interface (NATURAL by Software AG and 3270 green screens running in an IBM Mainframe environment) but with a 2nd generation architecture. The mixed screen & processing logic, pure mainframe batch processing model and narrowly specialized data model was judged unable to be extended for use as a transaction engine or even be service enabled. Certainly no part of a 3270 green screen 80x25 character based user interface can carry forward into a web model.

As a result (Large Government Agency) made the radical decision to THROW AWAY their complete existing application set and REBUILD THEIR FULL APPLICATION ENVIRONMENT. Project (Rebuild) at (Large Government Agency) is a 10 year project to replace each (Large Government Agency) business application set with a newly analyzed, architected, and developed application. The first application set is scheduled to go live in January, 2014, and will replace the Customer Data Management system, the (Main Business Process A) system, the Payment Processing System, and will create new systems for (previously non-automated high-personnel-overhead business process), Electronic Document Management (moving (Large Government Agency) from paper and file driven processes to fully electronic processes), and a new (customer submission process) Website.

The project involves over 120 consultants working in the (nice new) Technology Park in (major city) near the (Large Government Agency) headquarters but purposefully not in it. The project is not just creating new software but working on modernizing and streaming business processes, where possible given the complex laws, regulations, court decisions and labor union limitations.

Building a modern application from scratch, the project management has decided to go with a totally modern approach, meaning: True Service Oriented Architecture (not just web services, modular self-contained business step components), Rules Based (FICO Blaze rules engine), Event Driven, Workflow Process Controlled (Software AG Webmethods BPM engine), Java and IBM Websphere Application Server Java Enterprise Environment development environment, and DB/2 10 with a Hybrid-XML Data Model for complex yet easily adjustable data structures designed for fast reading of full data sets for rules processing.

~5% of the citizens of (country) interact with (Large Government Agency) on a regular basis. Today it takes an average of 142 days and 5 visits to (Large Government Agency) offices for those citizens to complete their interaction. This project will make the process both easier, faster and less expensive for (Large Government Agency) and for the citizens.

Of course, projects of this scope have great risks and a history of failure. A constant customer feedback process, agile development with independent modular deliverables attempts to minimize the risk. A rigorous testing, stress testing, and user testing schedule will further reduce the risk.

Yet, even with these project steps to reduce risk, an organization that has avoided any major systems or application changes in a human generation faces enormous cultural challenges in accepting such an upgrade. Cooperation between the business and IT has been focused around providing service (as a utility), not around explaining and automating processes. The IT infrastructure teams are used to managing equipment capacities several factors behind the current generation. Managing the cultural challenges within the organization and within the IT organization may be even higher risk than the large development scope of the project.

That said, (Large Government Agency) has hired teams of top tier consultants and given the project a realistic time frame and sufficient budget to make it happen. And perhaps most importantly, management has realistic expectations.

(Large Government Agency) has a reasonable likelihood of step by step success.  If dealing with change is difficult in most organizations, dealing with change IS the real project in this organization.

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