The odds were stacked against it.
After all, recent research from West Yarmouth, Mass.-based The StandishGroup indicates more than 30 per cent of IT applicationdevelopment projects will be cancelled before they are completed
and nearly53 per cent will cost 189 per cent of their original budget.
But theOntario Lottery andGaming Corp. completed a massive update of its Extrema-M lotteryterminals to retailers across the province —— on time and underbudget.
The project involved rolling out more than 8,400 new terminals,developing more than 700,000 lines of code, training 12,000 retailers andcreating 16 new business processes over four years, using five externalvendors in three countries.
To recognize the achievement, the Crown agency recently received a Canadian Project Excellence (CPEX)Award in the best practices category.
The awards, which were initiated this year by corporate education firmBay3000, the new University of Ontario and the Project Management Institute,are designed to recognize projects in the public and private sectors thatexcel in the areas of technology, best practices, innovation and knowledgemanagement, to name a few categories.
“The goal of the award is to celebrate projects in Canada,”says CPEX president Stephen Paul.
According to Paul, almost 100 projects were submitted for the awards,about half of which were from the public sector.
Italo Albidone, program manager for OLGC’s Ex-M project, says theorganization wanted to update its aging terminals.
“Our old terminals were starting to become obsolete,” saysAlbidone. “The mean time between failure was getting shorter andshorter and it was harder to find parts. Also, we wanted to move to anext-generation terminal to lay the foundation for futurefunctionality.”
The new terminals, from New York-based Scientific Games Corp., theagency’s current service supplier, are based on Windows XP-embeddedarchitecture. They feature touch screens rather than key pads, and acustomer-facing display that allows the agency to show promotional videos aswell as jackpot amounts of bigger games such as the 649 and the Super 7.
“Right now those videos are downloaded from a DVD,” saysAlbidone. “We’re looking at upgrading our network out to theseterminals to a new high-speed digital network, which would allow us tochange those videos on the fly, but that’s a long-termproject.”
Albidone says one of the biggest challenges the project posed wasmodifying, deleting or creating the 700,000 lines of code.
“Our sports games are always challenging to write and we are alottery, so integrity and liability and stability (are paramount),” hesays. “We could not accept any substandard products, because we have areputation with government and retailers and consumers of being top notch.Our games are always up, they are always secure, and there are never anyliability issues, so we run a very tight shop here.”
Albidone adds the agency had some development tools available to handlethe code modification because it is running an open architectureenvironment.
To keep on time —— it completed the project 33 per cent fasterthan its previous terminal rollout —— and stay on track and twoper cent under budget, the OLGC managed the project though its projectmanagement office.
“The project management concept is something our lottery businesshas dedicated itself to,” says Albidone. “Everything we do has alarge IT component because of the importance of the terminal and the network—— it’s such a big part of delivering the $2.2 billion insales we achieve each year. (The PMO) ensures that if it’s a project toamend an existing game or look at a new game, the same kind of projectmanagement discipline is used.”
Albidone adds that a large part of the project’s success was due tohis team’s discipline in avoiding scope-creep. For example, he says,although it would have been very easy to add extra functionality to the newterminals and to expand some of their networking capabilities, they decidednot to as that was not part of the original plan.
“We had an extremely clear vision and scope for the project,”he says. “We knew exactly when we started deviating from it and we hadto pull ourselves back.”
Another factor in the project’s success, he says, is related to theongoing communication at all stages among all participants, includingmanagement, retailers and suppliers. To get some help, Albidone turned tothe agency’s experts —— its corporate communicationsdepartment.
“We had to do it because we were changing the retailers’ world, andwe wanted to make sure we managed the communications and that the messagesgetting out were timely and consistent and that they were the messages wewanted to give out,” he says.
“We didn’t want any hearsay going through the retailer base.They hear a lot of rumours —— it’s almost like their ownlittle network —— and messages get distorted, so if you don’thave frequent messages, by the time the word gets out to some poor retailerin Northern Ontario, it can be a completely different message.”
According to Bill Bates, president of Toronto-based Bates Project ManagementInc., most organizations set up project offices to manage largeprojects —— those at least $5 million to $10 million in size.
Public sector projects pose all the same challenges faced by the privatesector —— and then some, he says.
The biggest challenge is in finding the right project manager, hesays.
Then there are the political issues that can weigh the project down, hesays.
“I’ve been on a couple where thepolitical side has come close to destroying the project. Let’s say thefederal government is running a major project that impacts all the provincesand the provinces don’t all agree with what’s going on—— you’re in for a world of hurt.”
As well, he says, the public sector has to deal with projects that dependon multi-year funding, which often doesn’t work very well.
One of the most innovative approaches Bates has seen in public sectorproject management is the strategy of using several large contractors andmaking them work together, rather than contracting to one large contractorwho then subcontracts the components out to several smaller vendors.
“If you go to one, you’re in their camp at that point and youhave no leverage, but if you have several you can leverage them off eachother.”