Last week, Anchorage mayoral candidate Lance Ahern shared a grim take on the city’s SAP software upgrade, anticipating another $50 million in spending over the next four years if current plans go forward.
The criticisms are part of the politicking ahead of the April 7th election, but carry extra weight because of how close the candidate is to the topic.
Ahern works as the Chief Information Officer for the Municipality of Anchorage. But at a press conference Friday morning he carefully specified he was speaking as a mayoral candidate, not a city employee. Since launching his campaign in February, Ahern has been deliberate about framing his IT experience as a strength, while distancing himself from the expensive, widely criticized implementation of the SAP software system.
“A lot of people ask me about my role in the project,” Ahern said in the Downtown office-share where he convened Friday’s event. “I can’t sit here and say ‘it’s not my fault,’ but I can sit here and say ‘I’m not part of the team making the decisions.’ I’m not in the room where the decisions are being discussed, my advice is really not being asked for. I would say that IT in general is really not part of the discussion. This is really the business folks within the administration who are making these decisions at this point.”
Ahern is most critical about the project’s scope, explaining that it has ballooned at the expense of a timely or cost-effective roll out. Without a drastic change in project management he estimates it will take another $50 million for the software to get fully up and running. That is on top of the $34.6 million that has already been spent.
Though often associated with the Administration’s technology workers, Ahern believes the IT department does not have much of a role in managing the SAP rollout within the Synergy Project.
“We have a lot of high-priced consultants who get to be in the room with Kate,”Ahern said in response to a question, referring to the Municipality’s Chief Financial Officer Kate Giard, whom he said relies too heavily on the advice of consultants for planning and management decisions.
But those with the mayor’s administration say consultants are just one group helping build a stronger foundation for the project going forward. A January audit found that a big reason for setbacks and delays was inadequate planning on how to assign man-hours and resources. The current phase of the program aims to fix that.
As CFO, Kate Giard is in charge of day-to-day management on the SAP project. She says the IT department is still involved in giving input. But that the project is in a phase where resources are going towards making sound plans for steps down the line.
“When you lay in a layer of project management, such as what we are proposing and what we have hired, that adds to the cost of the implementation. It also lowers the risks that you’re not going to be successful in your implementation,” Giard said after an Assembly work session on the same topic.
Though the majority of Ahern’s press conference focused on clearing up questions connected to SAP, he is quick to clarify the project is only one part of his duties as head of the city’s IT department. His campaign leans heavily on technology-based solutions for a range of city problems, including a redesign of the 911 system that incorporates more smart-phones, to trimming government budgets through IT fixes.