IS in schools (part III)

3. Success (and failures) are many splendoured things

I attended a meeting some time ago and one of the meeting members spoke about the failure of a certain government project. He spoke with such a sneer as if he was enjoying that project was a failure.  The officer who was responsible to the project was understandably  incensed and vehemently protested and insisted that the project was successful. Here is a classic case of difficulty in defining or determining whether a certain project is successful or not. The key word are perspectives and dimensions. From whose perspective are we reviewing or making the judgement? What are the dimensions of the measurements? Take the case of an IT project to design, develop and install a certain information system in schools. The appointed vendor delivered the project in time as per pre-determined specs, within the time limit and without much cost over run. The vendor was duly paid for work done. As far as the vendor is concerned, the project is successful or else they would not get paid wouldn’t they? Now if you talk to the users, they hardly used the system as it was already dated. They also have 1001 other reasons for not using it despite technically it was a sound system. Now, from the perspective of the users the project has failed. If you talk to the various middle managers, end users, outside observers or other stakeholders you’ll get a mixed bag of answers. So can you classify the project a failure or a success? I read the other day, from the perspective of an independent observer, successful projects are projects that are  on time, within budget, reliable, maintainable, meet goals and requirements of users. We may have no problem in ascertaining the the first two but the rest of the criteria are too subjectives to be measured directly. Some form of surrogate measurements have to be devised and tested.  It is much like measuring performance terms like satisfaction, usefulness, attitudes, etc. Of course they are stock scale measurement items available all over the world. But are they applicable here. Again we have to test and try. So there you see why the subject of success and and failures of IT or IS has been fascinating researchers world over for decades. Peter Seddon came out with a matrix  of stakeholders  and the type of IT/IS to determine the perspective and dimension of IS/IT performance measure. So if you are commenting on the success or failure of an IT/IS project, you must specify the stakeholder and the type of IT/IS being measured. That would pinpoint your comment on the correct spot.

The Malaysian Smart school project have been labelled by many as a failure. Then again, without specifying the perspective and the dimension, I cannot really say. If you look from the perspective of the nation as the stakeholder who wanted to be better off in IT awareness and literacy, and projecting the image of MSC, the project is a huge success. It has spawned numerous content developers, IT consulting firms,  and copycat projects around the developing world. Having said that, looking at it from the perspective of the users and on the dimensions of Information system provided or the coursewares provided, they were hardly used by the users. Can we conclude that they have failed? On the surface yes, but if you scratch deeper, the course wares were not frequently used because the opportunity and contact time to use them were limited, and it was overtaken by other events, not so much because they were useless. Similar arguments went for the IS, it was bogged down by technical problems which has little to do with the IS itself.  So can we play safe and say the project project has islands of success in sea of failures?


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