Audit: Tech overhaul for police, fire three years behind schedule

Portland, Oregon, officials didn't learn lessons from the city's troubled SAP implementation, according to the report

A sweeping overhaul of systems used by Portland, Oregon's fire and police departments is three years behind schedule and about US$10 million over budget, in part because city officials failed to "effectively use lessons learned" from past technology projects, including a troubled SAP software implementation, according to a new audit report.

Portland's Public Safety Systems Revitalization Program (PSSRP) stems from 2005 and encompasses a number of sub-projects to replace the city's computer-aided dispatch, public safety radio, police data and fire and rescue systems.

While the CAD project was "largely successful," in the sense it was completed on time and under budget, two of the other projects have gone way over budget and all three failed to meet their planned schedule, according to the report released Thursday by Portland City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade's office. "Problems with oversight continue to complicate the success of the overall program," it adds.

Even the CAD project had its difficulties, suffering from 400 reported defects after the go-live date. Some police complained the new system was "more difficult to use, hard to read, and slow," according to the report.

Although the radio replacement project will cost 3 percent less than planned, it's expected that the police data and fire systems efforts will see cost overruns between 96 and 277 percent, according to the report.

The total cost of the project is now estimated at $80 million, up from the original tally of about $70 million, according to the audit. All elements were expected to be done by December 2012 but that date has slipped to December 2015, it adds.

These issues "are largely the result of a problematic and shifting governance structure and inconsistent management," according to the audit.

Moreover, Portland officials didn't take proper advantage of some lessons learned through the city's troubled SAP project, such as the need to ensure proper staff training, the report states. That effort ended up tripling its budget and taking more than twice as long to complete, according to another audit released in 2010.

As for the PSSRP, the audit report makes a series of recommendations, including a reevaluation of the effort's leadership structure and extensive testing before any more systems go live, both in the back end and the field.

The audit report is just the latest instance of a public-sector IT project struggling to meet expectations. The U.S. Government and Accountability Office recently said that only three out of 14 large ERP (enterprise resource planning) projects the watchdog agency surveyed were fully on track.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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