The GCC government IT advantage

Public sector IT projects have a troubled history, but does the GCC have an advantage over western counterparts?

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The GCC government IT advantage The GCC has some advantages over western countries when it comes to major public sector IT projects. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  July 29, 2015

Large scale government IT projects, particularly in the west, have something of a bad reputation, in the main part due to their high incidence of failure. Any large IT project has a chance of failure, and the more complex the project the greater the risk. A study by McKinsey and the Oxford University Said Business School found that one in six large scale IT projects (with budget of over $170m) go over-budget by an average of 200%; and on average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over time, while delivering 56% less value than predicted.

While these figures are disturbing, the reported rate of failure is much higher in the public sector. There are numerous examples of projects that over-ran on time and budget, and ended up failing to deliver. Governments in the US, UK, Australia and France have all scrapped multi-million, or even billion dollar projects, and it is an ongoing occurrence - the annual cost of failed US government IT projects is estimated to be as high as $20 billion.

One of the many reasons cited for the high rate of failure in the public sector is that public sector projects are under much more scrutiny than their private sector counterparts. With public money being spent, disclosure laws and accountability means that any failures are a lot more likely to come to light. Countries in the GCC are perhaps not under the same spotlight from external sources, and the GCC public sector would also appear to have other advantages over counterparts in the west.

For one, projects are implemented under the strategic vision of the leadership of the country. There is no single partisan political party sponsoring a project and projects don't have an associated political agenda or risk becoming political ‘footballs' which may face ideological opposition or be criticised for political gain. Take for example US President Obama's healthcare initiative and its associated website, which suffered significant failures at launch. It is hard to imagine an IT project in the GCC where political opponents would be willing the project to fail in the same way as in the partisan US.

Political ownership of projects can also mean changes in senior management if the leading political parties change, and changes in scope depending on political goals. In the GCC, with stability and longevity of leadership, the same types of issues are not encountered.

Other areas where the GCC public sector has advantages include budgets, where generally speaking, there are more funds to go around, and while finding skilled staff is an issue across the region, staff are less likely to be lured from the public sector to the private with higher salaries.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that there are not challenges for the GCC public sector IT function. Projects are getting more and more ambitious. Gartner research director Darryl Carlton states that this is one of the main reasons government IT projects fail: "Projects are too big, too complex, too ambitious."

Public sector projects also increasingly involve multiple stakeholders, which makes governance more challenging. As more smart government projects look to integrate across different departments and silos are torn down, the complexity will only increase. More advanced projects will mean more demand for expertise with the latest technology and skillsets that are scarce on a global scale. All considered however, without some of the critical issues facing the public sector elsewhere, the GCC is uniquely positioned to deliver world-class government IT projects successfully, and with the strong focus from regional leaders on technology, it seems all the more likely that these projects will enjoy successful outcomes.

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