Over the years I had the fortune to meet many people from many countries who headed government projects. Some of them were qualified bureaucrats, some with backgrounds similar to current CIOs or project managers, and a few with no formal IT backgrounds. Their responsibilities were comparable to the enterprise equivalents and the only differentiator in most cases was the scale of operation. The projects they worked on were in many ways similar and quite different at the same time.
G projects especially that revolve around governance are humungous by nature as they impact a very large population (number of users); the complexity varies depending on the process or function. You could draw parallel with large enterprise CRM projects or for that matter self-service application deployed by Banks or telecom service providers. On the other hand there are also conventional automation projects akin to what every CIO and enterprise does as a routine with a view to create operational efficiency.
Enterprise IT drivers and critical success factors comprise on-time, within budget, business functionality and/or benefit and nowadays usability across platforms; corporate project governance keeps everyone on their toes. I am sure that G projects too have somewhat similar drivers and accountability to internal stakeholders. Circumstantial evidence would however point to the fact that the percentage of G projects meeting the success criteria is far lower than corporate. To the taxpayer who funds these, there is limited visibility.
One project lead narrated an incident where the ministers kept changing through the project leading to significant change in scope and timelines. The said project finally went live with 100% time overrun; he did not divulge the budgetary impact. Many years later it is cited as one of the major success stories though it still remains challenged for the masses that use it. Change management is more complex with multiple stakeholders who are required to sign-off and by the time they do, a new set of stakeholders emerges.
Some may argue that an IT project is an IT project and requires the same level of discipline of execution irrespective of where it is done. It is public knowledge that almost all G projects undergo severe review and the bidding process favours the most economical; at least for the initial bid, change requests is another matter. The corporate world is unkind to this flexibility though price war is getting messy for everyone. With different contexts then is it then fair to compare an apple to a pineapple ?
Multi-year projects are passé now though most G projects are that way; maybe they now factor in their unique reality and thus allow for higher latitude than available to a CIO. Project governance, reporting and transparency is not common to all; not too long ago a high profile G CIO was shunted out as he was making many uncomfortable with his open to all reports. He took a leaf from acceptable good practices but the plans, ideas and governance were not acceptable to the well-entrenched way of working.
While we acknowledge the differences in context and realities, I believe that the comparisons are unfair to both. Corporate business entities will always be more aggressive in their approach to capture the first mover advantage or adapt technology for sustenance and survival. They seek market share, profitability, growth and much more. Most Government projects on the other hand do not have a timeline that is critical and therein lays the difference. I wonder if G projects were to be run like corporate projects what would happen !