Senate Committee Report Excoriates Air Force For IT Incompetence

Sean Gallagher | Ars Technica | July 21, 2014

ERP system effort becomes “cautionary tale” for bad project management.

A full two years after its cancellation, Congress is still taking the Air Force to task for the failure of an eight-year logistics system project that was intended to consolidate somewhere between 175 and over 900 legacy software systems—depending on who you asked and when. In a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigative report (PDF) completed on July 7 and publicly released last week, Senate investigators called the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) “a cautionary tale” of poor management practices and horrific technology choices.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed enterprise resource planning (ERP) projects in government and business over the past decade, especially since the software the Air Force attempted to use to solve its problems was an off-the-shelf package that was supposed to be only superficially modified to meet the needs of the Air Force. But ERP systems aren’t just software projects—they often require a total restructuring of organizational processes to make them fit the software rather than just making existing processes more efficient.

“The Air Force failed in its procurement of [ECSS]… because it lacked a clear objective and the organizational will to implement changes to its internal business processes vital to integrating ECSS into the organization,” the Senate investigators wrote in the report. “In doing so, the Air Force violated many crucial guidelines and best practices for information technology acquisition.”...