When it comes to buying anything for the government, there’s typically rumors of fraud, abuse, and downright waste. Why is that so? Many reasons, including decisions by committee, politicians who are unqualified to make the choice in vendors or services, backstabbing among different factions of the government, and the ingrained concept of farming the job out to the lowest bidder instead of the most qualified. But as the city of Anchorage, Alaska, has finally learned, scrimping and cutting corners to save a buck can end up costing you big in the long run.
The city’s software woes began as far back as 2011 when it worked to implement a new managerial software system to streamline several of the government offices, branches, and divisions. Scrap that: the problem began in the late ’90s when a previous attempt at implementing this type of software never fully materialized, leading to the decision to try a new company.
What was supposed to be roughly $10 million over an eighteen-month implementation process of SAP’s ERP software has turned into a six-year projected ordeal to the tune of almost $40 million. There have been a few offline delays as well, in which the city’s leadership halted all progress in an effort to curb the bleeding money wound. After a recent independent IT review, it has been determined that too much money has been wasted already to simply close the project and start over, so the current mayor and assembly are moving forward with trying to implement this software, now expected to be in full use sometime in 2017.
Essentially, the question that begs asking is this: why, in the 21st century and with so many independent software developers producing great content, are cities still operating under the outdated mode of taking bids from major companies for this level of work? For the amount that has been spent already, the city could have hired its own team of engineers to write a program tailor-made to Anchorage’s specific needs. For that matter, there are too many other city and county governments that are happy with their software; why aren’t more governments sharing the news of what works and doesn’t work, instead of trying to reinvent the managerial wheel?
Hopefully, the city of just over 300,000 people will see some progress soon. Of course, at the current cost and time schedule, any software that does fall into place by 2017 may be obsolete.