Nine Steps for a Successful IT Investment

An adequate budget, a stable workforce, and executive-level support -- what more could the manager of a major technology program want? Six more things, according to an analysis by auditors at the Government Accountability Office.

To better understand why so many IT projects incur cost overruns and fall behind schedule -- while at the same time not doing much in the way of helping agencies manage their missions any better -- the Office of Management and Budget launched a number of initiatives to improve oversight and management of major IT acquisitions. As part of that effort, OMB asked the audit agency to identify successful IT investments and the critical factors that led to their success.

GAO came up with seven IT programs that met cost, schedule, scope and performance goals:

  • Decennial Response Integration System (Commerce)
  • Global Combat Support System-Joint, Increment 7 (Defense)
  • Manufacturing Operations Management Project (Energy)
  • Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (Homeland Security)
  • Integrated Terminal Weather System (Transportation)
  • Customer Account Data Engine 2 (Treasury)
  • Occupational Health Record-keeping System (Veterans Affairs)

And what made them successful, besides maintaining sufficient funding levels, having a stable staff (both government and contractor), and receiving support from senior executives? A few things, it turns out:

  • Program officials worked proactively with stakeholders.
  • Program staff knew what they were doing.
  • End users and stakeholders were involved in establishing program requirements.
  • End users participated in testing along the way.
  • Program staff set priorities.
  • Program officials communicated regularly with the prime contractor.

Incorporating all these things into acquisitions won't guarantee success, GAO notes. But leaving them out will pretty much guarantee failure.