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Failure to Learn from E-Government Mistakes

MEDIA RELEASE 28 July 2006
[for immediate release]

Failure to Learn from E-Government Mistakes

Tally the money lost on failed information and computer technology projects - $17 million here, $100 million there - and the amount is staggering. Yet millions of taxpayer dollars continue to be invested in e-government initiatives.

The authors of New Zealand's first book on e-government argue that the public sector has not learnt a key lesson: large ICT projects generally fail and should be avoided if possible.

In Dangerous Enthusiasms: E-Government, Computer Failure and Information System Development, Robin Gauld and Shaun Goldfinch contend that a central problem is the overblown and unrealistic expectations that many people have for information technology.

In reality, the larger the development, the more likely it will fail. Just 38 per cent of government projects are deemed successful and these often do not deliver the financial and other benefits they promise.

Dr Gauld and Dr Goldfinch examine case studies of e-government and ICT failures in the New Zealand public sector. The INCIS development in the New Zealand Police force was abandoned in 1999 at a direct cost of above $100 million and indirect costs largely incalculable. Health Waikato abandoned its ICT project at a cost of $17 million. A large part of a $26 million Capital Coast Health project failed. While considered successful, Land Information New Zealand's Landonline system ran considerably over budget estimates, faced continual delays and caused significant disruption to business during its development.

What is striking about these failures and partial success is the degree to which they repeat many of the mistakes found in other ICT failures.

The title of the book is drawn from four 'enthusiasms' for ICT that Dr Gauld and Dr Goldfinch have identified: technological infatuation, the myth of the technological fix, the role of technology salespeople, and managerial faddism. These four enthusiasms feed off and mutually reinforce each other, creating a strongly held belief that new and large ICT projects will be a good idea.
Dangerous Enthusiasms is published by Otago University Press.

Authors

Robin Gauld is a senior lecturer in health policy, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago. His books include Revolving Doors: New Zealand's Health Reforms (2001), and, as editor, Continuity and Chaos: Health Care Management and Delivery in New Zealand (2003).

Shaun Goldfinch is a senior lecturer in Political Studies at the University of Otago. He is the author of Remaking New Zealand and Australian Economic Policy: Ideas, Institutions and Policy Communities (2000).

Publication details
Dangerous Enthusiasms: E-Government, Computer
Failure and Information System Development
Release: 28 July 2006. RRP $39.95

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