There are high incidents of failure of ERP implementations in government from late delivery, over budgeting to inability to achieve expected benefits. Many ERP implementations, even in the most advanced countries, fail.
- Governments are increasingly adopting Commercial-Off-the-Shelf (COTS) software to replace legacy and custom developed software applications for financial, budget, expenditure, tax, treasury and civil service management.
- A major impetus for recent COTS projects is to replace multiple applications within a government organization with one integrated solution or to support numerous government organizations with a hosted shared service or private government cloud.
- Government organizations can choose to acquire Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software from large software firms whose software is used in multiple “vertical” markets or Government Resource Planning (GRP) software designed exclusively for governments.
- FreeBalance, with the FreeBalance Accountability Suite™, is a GRP provider. FreeBalance does not build or provide software to the private sector.
- IT projects, in general, have experienced poorer results in the public sector. The United States Government Accountability Office has “reported and testified that federal IT projects too frequently incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes.”
- Complex rules and political considerations in government add to the general reasons for large IT project problems.
1. Large ERP Project Failures in Developed Countries – Government
In Canada, the use of ERP for payroll modernization (Phoenix Pay System) resulted in more than 1/4 of public servants having pay errors and some have gone months without receiving salaries as the system has “repeatedly gone haywire” as the New York Times reported. The total cost to overcome the ERP problems may cost as much as C$2.6 billion.
An explanation of the “Phoenix Pay System” Government of Canada ERP failure by Macleans Magazine:
The Government of Australia is investigating high ERP costs and the practices of the leading vendors. Over half the budget recent upgrade to a new version of ERP in Australia (GovERP) was quickly consumed by consultants because a “lack of expertise“.
A large ERP shared services project in France was estimated to be $200 million over budget by the audit office and more than one year late(1) and resulted in late payments of more than $2.2 billion to defense contractors(2).
The German government tried to deflect responsibility for a 55-billion euro accounting blunder that has exposed it to charges of ridicule for being inept and hypocritical after its steady criticism of Greek bookkeeping practices(3).
The National Audit Office in the United Kingdom found the use of ERP shared services added expenses rather than reducing costs(4).
And a Cabinet Office analysis found:
- Average cost to deploy a Tier 1 ERP is £160 per employee using the traditional method
- Theoretical cost to deploy via shared services is £93 per employee
- Use of lower cost solutions at £52 per employee
Another analysis from the Cabinet Office in the UK found inconsistent software license pricing in government for the same Tier 1 ERP package where the two leading vendors had “the most inconsistent prices for ERP licence and maintenance support across central government departments.”
Another UK study found low satisfaction with ERP in government where over half of the respondents were using Tier 1 ERP software. The survey showed Tier 1 ERP satisfaction is far lower than alternative solutions.
- 63%: ERP system did not meet expectations in at least one area
- 60%: Would choose a different company to implement the ERP if had to do it over again
- 50%: Tier 1 ERP implementation costs higher than expected
- 45%: Tier 1 ERP implementation took longer than expected
- 43%: Would choose a different software than the ERP implemented if had to do it over again
- 40%: Tier 1 ERP ability to meet government requirements without customization lower than expected
- 39%: Tier 1 ERP system ease of use worse than expected
- 25%:Tier 1 ERP ability to meet government needs after customization lower than expected
- 20%: ERP system had negative impact on organization
Users of non-Tier 1 ERP solutions were four times more likely to rate their solution as exceeding expectations on any of five dimensions and half as likely to rate their solution as worse than expected.
In the United States, reports by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General (IG) found that:
- 11 of 13 ERP projects were over-budget costing American taxpayers billions of dollars
- One ERP project resulted in $1 billion “largely wasted”(5)
- Another project stopped after seven years and $1 billion invested would require an additional $1.1 billion for about a quarter of the original scope
- And that cost estimates for on-going projects are wildly inaccurate.
A report from 2017 from the DoD IG found that “the Navy and Defense Finance and Accounting Service spent $2.5 billion over the last decade and plan to spend an additional $823.4 million over the next 5 years on maintaining and developing new functionality for Navy financial management systems that are not compliant with the standards that might not support auditable financial statements and not meet the congressional mandate to have auditable financial statements.”
- Only three 3 implementations were delivered close to budget while 3 implementations exceeded 5 time budget in the United States Department of Defense, including one ERP project which between 2004 and 2010 may have wasted $5.2 billion and never really worked.(6)
2. Large ERP Project Failures in Developed Countries – Public Sector
ERP failures and cost overruns in the public sector have resulted in difficulties, contract cancellations and lawsuits, although lawsuits are rare because vendors would rather do what it takes to make the situation right than face potential public-relations damage from a high-profile legal battle:
- Australia: tax office, state governments (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9), former government-owned corporation
- Canada: non-profit, cities (1) (2), government procurement, universities (1) (2)
- France: city
- Ireland: 2 projects within an important ministry
- New Zealand: education payroll, city, city with failures with 2 different ERPs
- United Kingdom: university (1) (2) (3), councils (1) (2) (3) (4) (5), government ministries (1) (2) (3), police force (1)
- United States: non-profit, school districts (1) (2) (3), universities (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10), hacking via ERP vulnerability in 62 colleges, a police department, cities (1) (2) (3) (4) (5), counties (1) (2) (3) (4), state governments (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14), federal government (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13), public utility
KPMG found some ERP in public sector patterns:
- Budget overruns particularly in implementation where additional software customization was needed: typically six months to a year
- Only 57% of implementation projects stayed on budget
- Many survey participants could not recall the original budget
Panorama Consulting research shows 78% of public sector ERP implementations are over budget and over schedule and 35% simply fail!
In reviews of top ERP failures journalist Chris Kanaracus found that slightly over half came from the public sector despite representing only 20% of the market size. The majority of IT disasters involved ERP implementations.
3. Large ERP Project Failures in Developing Countries – Government
While it is common ground that an FMIS is critical to PFM reform in developing markets, there are ongoing issues with these large scale IT projects. A recent survey of 46 countries by the IMF showed that many face severe challenges in transforming their FMIS into an effective tool of fiscal governance. These challenges relate to:
- Weaknesses in the system’s core functions
- Its institutional coverage
- The information technology platforms it uses
- The ease of sharing data with other IT systems
Examples of ERP in government implementation problems in emerging economies include: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador (more), Ghana, Kazakhstan, Kenya (update), Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Moldova, Nigeria, Panama, Papua New Guinea (update), Russia, Rwanda, Serbia, South Africa (+municipality), Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia (update) and Vietnam.
Are Major ERP Vendors Ethical?
There is mounting evidence that major ERP vendors are using unethical means including:
- Bribery and corruption in: India, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Romania, South Africa, Ukraine
- Skirting export restrictions in: Iran
- Charging customers who paid for integration for “indirect access” (1) (2)
- Suing customers for: failed projects in: Oregon and losing competitive cloud bid in the United States Department of Defence
- Trolling customers for additional revenue through “license audits“
- Dubious human resources policies including skirting EU regulations and laying off older workers
- Threatening to turn off applications in a South African State-Owned-Enterprise in a payment dispute
- Promoting social media surveillance of protesters in China
Large IT Projects are Risky
All large IT projects are risky. A McKinsey and University of Oxford study concluded “that 71% of large IT projects face cost overruns, and 33% of projects are around 50% over budget. On average, large IT projects deliver 56% less value than predicted.” Many of these projects involve ERP.
The implementation of GRP systems in government can be more challenging than typical IT projects. GRP projects combine general IT risks with ERP and reform transformation.
Evidence of Large IT Project Problems in Government
End of year IT disaster stories from Chris Kanaracus in 2012 and 2013 showed a disproportionate number of government failures.
An analysis of many studies shows that capacity is more likely to be a project issue in government than in the private sector. Our view is that organizational change management is under-reported as a contributor to failure in World Bank studies, likely a core contributor to project management problems.
It’s not all bad news. David Eaves observed from Standish reports that IT success in government has improved over time.
Here are some slides I did based on data reported from the standish reports. First is comparing the reports over time. Governments are – slowly – getting better. 1/2 @angelquicksey @mskatiebenjamin @sboots @arouault @AlexCEngler https://t.co/yofuTLlgGH pic.twitter.com/oRLAGb40x7
— David Eaves (@daeaves) February 13, 2021
And probably could have just typed it out, but some data from their 2018 report. Hope these are helpful. 2/2 pic.twitter.com/zVxZLthqLN
— David Eaves (@daeaves) February 13, 2021
Evidence of limited success rates with ERP implementations across multiple industries
An analysis in 2014 by Price Waterhouse Coopers found no ERP project that achieved all success criteria.
A 2014 survey from Oakton Applications found “most organisations have dug themselves an ERP hole with overstretched teams, complex customizations and a backlog of expensive upgrades.” The survey also found that “customization is strongly driven by ‘improving business processes’ or ‘unique industry requirements’ for more than 80% of organizations.” This points to the fallacy that general purpose ERP packages can effectively support multiple industries.
- 25% indicated that organization had not recovered ERP implementation costs
- Between 20% and 35% of all ERP implementations fail
- 51% of ERP implementers judged their implementation as unsuccessful
- Nearly 70% of large projects were found to be improbable of achieving project success
- 41% of ERP projects achieved all or the majority of benefits
- 60% received 50% or less of anticipated benefits
- 48% of respondents find the range of ERP solutions on offer confusing
- 40% of ERP projects failed to meet business case within 1 year of going live
- Average for ERP projects was 50% of intended benefits
- ERP projects saw the implementation of -59% of intended functionality
- 34% of respondents “very satisfied” with ERP project
- Fewer than 1/3 of decision-makers recommend their ERP vendor
- ERP vendors achieved a D+ in return on investment
- 75% of organizations experienced a productivity dip after implementing ERP
- 79% of finance directors unhappy with ERP projects
- 20% of survey respondents terminated ERP projects
- 92% of finance directors do not find ERP easy to use
- Failure rates of big 3 ERP at 28%, 38% and 33%
- Ability to achieve 50% or more of planned benefits among big 3 ERP at 31%, 17% and 0%
- 80% of organisations do understand licensing models when purchasing their ERP software
- 53% of companies reported budget overruns
- 40% of all ERP projects will exceed estimates by 50% or more
- Average ERP cost variance was 182% of budgets
- Average ERP cost variance was 178% of budgets
- Average ERP implementation cost was 40% over budget
- Average ERP implementation takes 23 months, has a total cost of ownership of $15 million and with an average negative net present value of $1.5 million
- Users of Tier 1 ERP vendors will experience higher Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) than users of Tier 2 vendors
- ERP upgrades cost about ½ the value of the original license fee and 20% of the original implementation costs
- Experts warn that organizations should expect to pay as much as 3 times the original ERP software cost to upgrade to new technology
- Interviews with reference customers of a major ERP vendor found that 57% did not achieve a positive ROI
- Cost overruns of the 2 major ERP packages by 13% and 18%
- Businesses exceed their original budget by 18%
- 61% of projects exceeded timelines
- Project duration averages 17.8 months for first phase
- Average implementation time from the two major ERP vendors are 17 and 18 months with average variance of two and four months over schedule
- Average variance for ERP projects was 230% of schedule
- Up to 80% of ERP exceed time and budget estimates
- 70% of respondents stated their ERP project timeline was inadequate
- Exceeding estimated time by big three ERP software by 47%, 28% and 17%
Need for Customization
Code customization increases implementation, support and upgrade costs. Organizations customize code in order to achieve functionality that is not provided by ERP vendors “out of the box”.
- 47% organisations heavily customise their ERP
- 34% of organisations believe greater customisation is the right way to get more value from their ERP solution
- 11% of organization with no customization, 38% Minor customization (1-10% of code modified), 32% Some customization (11-25%), 12% significant customization (26-50%), 9% Extremely or completely customized
The FreeBalance survey comparing ERP and GRP experience in the Government of Canada
FreeBalance completed a survey at the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference (GTEC), Nov. 5 to 8 2012 and the Financial Management Institute of Canada (FMI) Professional Development Week, Nov. 27 to 30 2012. Both of these conferences were held in Ottawa. We received 207 responses.
Over 70% of respondents believe FreeBalance software has a much lower TCO in government financial management than ERP. Almost 70% suggested that the FreeBalance TCO was between 10 and 50% that of ERP.
Analysis of GRP vs. ERP 5 Year TCO
FreeBalance competes internationally against major ERP providers. Price quotations are often made public during bid openings in many countries. Most of the international requirements call for all costs over a three or five year period including software licenses, implementation, support, training, middle-ware and hardware. Although some of the proposals were not this five Year TCO, ERP prices average 175% FreeBalance prices where the median price is 225% FreeBalance prices.
Opinions from Social Media
FreeBalance is active on social media. We’ve had some interesting feedback from twitter on the issue of ERP and IT failure in the public sector:
— Mohamed S. Ali (@sahilz79) January 20, 2014
— Mohamed S. Ali (@sahilz79) January 20, 2014
— Doug Hadden (@dalytics) August 9, 2017
— Doug Hadden (@dalytics) March 8, 2018
— Ryan James (@Ryerland) February 15, 2013
— Doug Hadden (@dalytics) December 14, 2014
— Doug Hadden (@dalytics) September 15, 2016
— FreeBalance (@freebalance) November 6, 2014
— ERP Focus (@ERPfocus) May 17, 2013
— Thomas Michael (@ListenToThomas) August 20, 2017
A 2003 study by the World Bank found a lack of success in government FMIS implementations whether ERP, GRP COTS or Custom developed:
- 43% delivered as specified
- 50% delivered on budget
- 21% delivered on time
- 25% unsustainable
- 69% likely to be sustainable
- 6% highly likely to be sustainable
A 2011 study by the World Bank found that IFMIS implementation sustainability has improved but that 18% remain unsustainable. The lack of capacity and leadership in the public service has been shown to be more critical to failure for IFMIS when compared to general implementations of enterprise software.