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back to article Queensland bans IBM from future work

The Australian State of Queensland has barred IBM from future government work, “until it improves its governance and contracting practices.” Queensland is grumpy with IBM because of its role in a billion-dollar blowout of a payroll system for its health department. An inquiry into IBM's role in the project yesterday concluded …

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Headmaster

"Not being considered for public sector work in Queensand is bad news for Big Blue, as the State grows quickly thanks to an attractive climate, enviable lifestyle and low taxes."

No, no, no.

1) It's "Queensland"

2) It's "the state", not "the State". The latter designates that entitiy that is just the current mobster outfit nominally in charge. You know, the guys who are "here to help you".

3) "low taxes". Soon to be less low, especially if the kraken sub 2) continues to grow.

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FAIL

You do know what the Send Corrections button is for dont you? Or would you rather be a grandstanding commentard than helpful?

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Headmaster

And thanks for explaining what a "Premier" is. Except of course that of course since the UK has no "States" the comparison with State Governors was a little bit pointless.

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@ The First Dave - Its actually almost exactly the same as a First Minister in a devolved parliament over here. As both the Premier, and First Ministers sit in a legislature as well as having executive functions its a closer match than US governor which is an executive only role.

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@Gordon

As it happens, I see no Send Corrections button for this article.

Maybe they are planning a new version which points to a proper form, rather than an email address. This has been my personal reason for not using the Send Corrections button. I should not use my work address to send an message to a news site, and I'm not going to the trouble of logging into a throwaway Hotmail address just for reporting a correction.

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We desperately need to put in a similar style of "naughty step" proviso for government contractors here. Starting with contracts that have scaling penalties when a company blows the budget they were given for completing a project and ask for more. Too much lowballing of tenders only for the true cost to come out once everyone is heavily invested.

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We desperately need to put in a similar style of "naughty step" proviso for government contractors here.

I think we need a "naughty step" proviso for government officials first.

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Big Brother

Ban G4S from UK Gov Contracts?

if its banning companies from under biding and under delivery, can we start the UK "banned from public tenders" list with G4S?

Given the investigation of fraud around tagging, and the lamentable fiasco of the olympics, I don't see how any submission made by this company could be (a) taken seriously or (b) at face value by anybody evaluating a bid.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ban G4S from UK Gov Contracts?

Actually, I wonder when the first banning by a non-American government of American tech will happen.

The U.S. is suspicious of Huawei tech of having backdoors for the Chinese government - shouldn't the rest of the world start considering that U.S. tech as backdoors for their government (PRISM, NSA and FBI)? Isn't turn-about fair play?

If the United States government had one SHRED of intelligence (which is very questionable), they would weigh the fact that demanding security access to tech only makes their tech products suspicious to future buyers.

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Go

Wow a state that actually blacklisted one of the usual suspects.

BTW IBM as prime contractor it is very much your responsibility to ride herd on your sub contractors.

Now will the states procurement processes be reviewed so no one person (and not even an employee) can game the system as well as Mr Burns did.

I've been looking for a good example of what I mean by a "conslutant"

I think I've found one.

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A(nother) pedant writes

That'd be "the state's procurement..."

A wonderful place to visit. I suspect that asking people to decide what they have earned and draw that against an eventual reconciliation would have been cheaper, more accurate, and made people happier, but that may be too much radical anarchism.

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Re: A(nother) pedant writes

"the states' procurement...." Fixed that for you.

When will the humble apostrophe be declared State Enemy #1 for causing so much havoc and mayhem?

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Facepalm

@Grikath

No, it's almost certainly "state's":

1. the state's procurement processes = the procurement processes of the state

2. the states' procurement processes = the procurement processes of the states

As there was only one state involved, the author probably meant case 1. We can have another argument about whether processes should be in the plural, but not having used a single process might have been part of the problem...

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the ’umble apostrophe

Grikath, Brewster’s Angle Grinder summed it up well.

The apostrophe (in this case) is how English distinguishes the Germanic genitive declension -s from the Latinate plural declension -s — an unfortunate necessity due to this particular piece of our Old English/Norman French mashup. You’ll know that the apostrophe has become International Enemy #1 should English ever resume the use of the Germanic plural declension -en: in the unlikely event of that occurring, the meanings of e.g. state, states, staten, and statens would be clear without apostrophes.

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Re: the ’umble apostrophe @ Irony Deficient

Ya' know, I was about to lash the downvote button as I find pedants worthless, and apostrophe-worrying uberpedants make me despair of Man, but that bit of etymology was rather interesting. Thanks.

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Headmaster

Re: the ’umble apostrophe

OMG, thank you for summarising how it came about! I had a feeling it was something about the Germanic plural change, but never did quite put it together that way.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "almost certain"

Disbelief that you would take the time to make a comment when you are not sure of a very simple fact which could have been verified by a three-second search.

In general, why don't we leave the technical stuff to people who actually do know what they're talking about? The Internet is already too full of morons spouting ill-informed rubbish.

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Anonymous Coward

Never Mind The Apostrophe!

I want to know what this "riding herd" is.

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Anonymous Coward

"However, as acknowledged by the Commission's report, the successful delivery of the project was rendered near impossible by the State failing to properly articulate its requirements or commit to a fixed scope.”

So why the ban?

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IBM will have taken full advantage of the fact that requirements weren't properly articulated. They would have known it at the point of tender and they would have known it during "the build". Their sales and account management teams would have been constantly looking for extra revenue streams and doing their best to make sure IBM took as much money as it could from the project.

This is how all the big consultancies behave. It does seem unfair to single out IBM for what is typically cuntish consultancy behaviour

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Anonymous Coward

That comment was extracted from a document of 260 + pages. Out of context, it makes Big Blue seem like the victim; however, if you read the full report (and yes I did) you can see that the comment was far less important in terms of the overall failure.

They argue that they "..cooperated fully with the Commission of Inquiry.."; not quite the conclusion that I drew from many of the points made. They also say "..we do not accept many of these findings as they are contrary to the weight of evidence presented.." ; whereas I would say that the weight of evidence shows a long and consistent series of failures.

I accept that it is a very long document, but I suspect that most reasonable people would reach the same conclusions that IBM did not act according to their own guidelines of ethics; that they failed to follow their own project management processes and contributed in no small way to the complete failure of the overall project. Worse, they then took steps to try to mitigate their own culpability (which is reasonable behaviour) by trying to offload the blame onto others (which is not).

But then, this seems to be the way that many of the very large consultancies work; and whilst they get away with it, there is just no reason for them to change. Only by hitting them hard in the bank balance will there ever be any incentive for them to rethink their behaviour.

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IT Angle

breakdown of payments

If IBM got 25 million, can you give us a rough estimate of which other parties got the other 1175 million of the contract?

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Unhappy

Yep, typical consultancy behaviour

@AceRimmer - exactly. I had the misfortune of working on one of the UK government IT projects (that has made the news in the past) outsourced to a large US company subsequently bought by another large US company. I lasted 7 months and could not take the "deliberate entrapment" of the UK government users in defining wrong requirements: no advice was given, and if it was seen they were going down the wrong route, it was actively encouraged and dissentors (like me) who tried to do a good job were 'silenced' or 'disposed of' being easy-come / easy-go contractors. After the UK govt. specified the sub-optimal requirement, it was implemented. Ta da ... QED ... instantaneous further change request amidst accusations of not specifying requirements properly. This article sounds like identical behaviour of actually adding no value to the process and instead actively encouraging 'expensive mistakes' to be made actively or passively. The saddest thing is there were a few whistle-blowers, who instead of getting government thanks ... got axed making me think that there were a few insiders benefitting from the contract award. I wonder why it took so long to get to this point in Australia unless the same thing was happening: some people in government were invested in this and also chose to ignore the obvious abuses?

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@AC Wednesday 7th August 2013 09:08 GMT

Have you ever worked under a "spec" that is not fully articulated? I suspect not, or this post would not exist. There is no way you can predict what the client wants, so you CAN'T accurately price. The best you can do is add 10% (which is only to cover things YOU missed) and and the comment that any changes to the spec are subject to additional fees.

The reason all consultancies do this is because all they can do is price to the contract, and EVERY government contract is poorly specified (not that the private sector is much better, just less visible) If they start guessing what you want, and trying to account for that, they WILL get it wrong, and will be beaten out by the people who do estimate to spec.

The idiot who didn't write a proper spec needs to be fired.

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Re: Yep, typical consultancy behaviour

My experience as well RegisterThis.

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FAIL

Re: breakdown of payments

IBM - 25 million

HP - quite a few SuperDomes

Other Contractors - a little bit

Public Servants processing the pays - more than 1 Billion

I.e. the headline number is the cost over the next N years (where N is 3 or 4) of all the public servants putting pay variations into the system due to the fabulous system design

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Anonymous Coward

Another billion wasted on HL7 specs

Add that to 5billion in UK, a billion in Canada, infinite dollars in US wasted on contradictory specs. These guys are experts at wasting money. Qld only has amateurs,

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The Winner gets the cheque

After a billion dollar spend, IBM get a slap on the wrist. They've already got a billion dollars.

All these screw-ups, big ones, all involve companies getting gigantic sums of money. IBM have already won and had the cash.

The winner gets the cheque. IBM won.

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Anonymous Coward

What happened to you, Big Blue?

I've been reading a lot of stories about IBM annoying governments recently.

What happened?

It used to be that IBM was trusted, indeed "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM".

IBM PC was like Hoover, in that it was almost a colloquial term for an x86 machine.

A few years ago when our struggling startup was bought out by big blue, I thought all of my Christmases had came at once!

Unfortunately the reality soon hit home. It does seem that short term profit goals, mediocore salaries and the need to constantly play silly "Let's CC everybody" management games got in the way of real software engineering.

I left disappointed and fazed. They say never meet your heroes....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What happened to you, Big Blue?

The startup I worked for a was bought up by IBM a few years ago and my experience is the opposite to yours. That said, I have worked in large organisations before and know how to operate within one. I also know that the day IBM bought my company, I stepped from a speedboat into an oil tanker. Is one better than the other? No, they do different things, operating in different ways. Did some staff leave because they didn't like it, yes, but it was the minority.

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Re: What happened to you, Big Blue?

According to this article, IBM was quite blinkered in this way even in the late 80s, around the time OS/2 was gearing up to be stabbed in the back by MS:-

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/11/26/os2_final_fail/?page=1

From page 2:- "The emphasis on cost saving over producing a superior product was scary to watch. Another mantra was “every dollar saved on the cost of a PC is worth millions”, quite literally on posters all over the building."

IIRC, according to Robert X. Cringely's "Accidental Empires", even in the old (pre-90s) days, IBM was a management-centric company, with everyone- or at least a significant proportion of employees- wanting to get in. This resulted in many unwieldy layers of management and many managers, which was part of the cause of their near death experience.

Anyway, what happened to IBM? IIRC after almost going bankrupt in the aforementioned 90s, they reinvented themselves as a far more services-and-consultancy-oriented company that seems to be quite good at extracting far more money than they're worth from their victims^w customers.

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Big Brother

Re: What happened to you, Big Blue?

I was in part of a very large consultancy firm bought by IBM. They told us all that nothing would change. BS! they just pushed us into being box shifters for software and server groups.

Previous to IBM we called them clients, in IBM they were customers. I hated it as we could see what was happening in terms of ripping off the client. But we were told to only deliver to the bare minimum of the RFP regardless of where it would actually do what the client needed. When the whole thing failed (as it did several times) the client was told we delivered what you asked for not what you wanted.

To me IBM knows cost of everything and the value of nothing.

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Anonymous Coward

IBM was like Hoover?

Are they going to be brought down by offering free air tickets with every machine?

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Wow, this sounds like INCIS - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INCIS which was only a $100 million dollar IT deployment that IBM was contracted to in the 90's. Wikipedia is sanitised - the below link is a bit more thorough..

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.18.8478&rep=rep1&type=pdf

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CAPITA.... you should get this treatment in UK.

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Headmaster

That should be: CRAPita

Also

accidenture

il-logica

un-thoughtworks

I don't know what the IBM equivalent is. Probabaly

Idiotic Business Mashers

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I missed out

Info shyts

and

Tech me-hindrance

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Incomprehensible Black Magic?

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Not to mention a-toss

As in "Don't give" if it works or not.

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Holmes

You get what you (don't ) spec

Let's be clear on a couple of things here.

Firstly government departments are not victims: they employ banks of their own people to gather and articulate requirements, and to provide oversight and management of projects. Whenever a project goes tits up you must first ask what the buyers were doing.

Secondly, if you've ever tried to manage a project when the requirements keep changing, you'll appreciate that lining up a big team with a lot of contractors in such a way as to hit a moving target is a near-impossibility.

Lastly, it is true that consultancies make their money from 'change control'. I've even heard of firms bidding below cost, planning to make up the shortfall in the change control. But that takes me back to my first point - figure out what you want before you start building it.

Could well be that IBM dropped the ball, in fact probably did, but the Client had his day in court, so presumably had course to remedy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You get what you (don't ) spec

>>but the Client had his day in court,<<

Actually they didn't. The Inquiry is not a Court of Law and its remit is limited to gathering facts.

One of the senior people from IBM had a meeting with one of the senior people from Queensland in 2010 and somehow persuaded him to sign away QH right to sue for damages (it seems primarily because IBM threatened to sue for damage of reputation; which under Queensland Law they cannot, which IBM were probably aware of).

"Secondly, if you've ever tried to manage a project when the requirements keep changing"

I have and it's a PITA; but I would argue that in far too many cases, it's not that requirements change, just the understanding of those requirements previously defined.

If you read the whole document, you'll see that most of the items that IBM said were new requirements were actually nothing of the sort. Many of the defects identified were also "re-classified" by IBM in severity; and again, IBM took an aggressive approach to negotiation insisting that the work to fix these was outside of the agreed project.

They also took a very belligerent stance over reports from UAT that highlighted failures in areas where they insisted it was working correctly despite evidence to the contrary; and once the system went live, they declared the performance issues as "minor" when by any basic understanding of the requirements, it was not meeting the most simple of specifications.

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Standard operating procedure

Robert X Cringely would not find this cock up surprising at all. http://www.cringely.com/2013/06/20/ibm-to-customers-your-hand-is-staining-my-window/

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the lesson from this...

Govt entities should not be allowed to manage large, complex IT projects. When has it actually been a success?

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Re: the lesson from this...

ARPANet? Enigma decoder? Space exploration?

But if you mean in today's world? Almost never.

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Re: the lesson from this...

Uh, wasn't it actually IBM managing the project in this instance? Sure, they were *engaged* by the QLD govt, but it looks like IBM were project leads and managing subcontractors.

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“until it improves its governance and contracting practices.”

When will that be? Next week? Quietly? With word in the right ear?

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Code to original spec, then negotiate for changes

If you don't want to try to hit a randomly moving target, then code to the original spec, meet it, be done with it, and then negotiate for changes. If the client doesn't like that, then they've broken the contract, and it's all on them. And if the client is crazy, then don't do business with them.

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Re: Code to original spec, then negotiate for changes

When you stand to make a BILLION dollars, most people will do business with the Devil himself.

And often do.

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Anonymous Coward

Humane Society Disclaimer

"No-one was fired and no company heads arrested over this abuse of a huge amount of money"

Reading the recent history of IT contracts of just one US state, California, shows program after program with $100's of millions in over-runs.

State IT procurement is a mess, with criminals, incompetents and corporate wise guys all rubbing their hands. I bet a few politicians get involved in the gravy train too.

IT has to stop. It's my money and your money!

The British have tackled this, and expect to save $3Billiob a year. The vendors are squealing they can't make any money, since they now have to bid like in the commercial space, but that's fundamentally a good sign that the issue is being addressed properly.

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Procurement

If it is my responsibility to procure a 60¢ apple and I instead come back with a $100 orange, the fault is mine, not the fruit vendor's. It's not that IBM that should be banned from any future projects. It's the Queensland public sector who should be banned from procuring *anything*.

I'd also say that the previous, Labour state government was utterly inept but I think a 100X cost overrun to produce a system which doesn't work says it quite eloquently all by itself. And yet, people kept voting for them.

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