is in the process of defining what skills a project manager should possess.

The CBMS team originally put most of its faith in EDS's guidance while planning the CBMS project because state executives didn't have experience implementing such a large program.

Colorado shares blame with the vendor for the project's difficulties, said Huston. On one hand, he said, the state's inexperience with large integration projects put the operation behind schedule. But Colorado hired EDS -- an experienced global technology services company -- to compensate for the state's lack of expertise in that field, he said.

William Ritz, manager of public relations for EDS U.S. Government Solutions, said Colorado governments did a good job responding to problems in a complex project. "State and county users deserve credit for making major progress in addressing early-state challenges, as do the governor and agency directors for their leadership," Ritz said.

Picanso said part of the recently passed legislation requires the state to put project management experts in the governor's office, ensuring that Colorado will have experts whose sole interests are the state's, not the vendor's. The OIT will employ four of those experts, who will also spend time among the departments, training and mentoring government executives to be better project managers themselves, Picanso said, adding that the OIT is still exploring what those experts' jobs will entail.

Taking on the Vendor

Huston and several other state government executives recently completed a new contract template they say will hold vendors more accountable for their responsibilities by tightening contract provisions. The CBMS contract, he added, was vaguely written, leading to numerous disagreements with the vendor, putting the project behind schedule.

Colorado canceled two major IT contracts around the time of the CBMS's difficulties -- one for a project called Genesis, an effort to integrate two separate computer systems that tracked unemployment taxes and benefits for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and another to build a centralized voting system for the secretary of state.

Former Colorado CIO Robert Feingold, who is now a senior fellow with the Center for Digital Government, said clearer contract provisions served the state well when those two projects -- both awarded to Accenture -- ran into trouble.

Colorado used the tightly written Accenture contracts to unequivocally show that the vendor failed to meet some of its obligations, saving the state from any undeserved blame for the cancellations, said Feingold. Tighter contract provisions would have helped when the CBMS project ran into trouble, he added.

"When you recognize that someone has performed on a certain portion of [a project], and now they're not going to perform, then you cut your losses," Feingold said. "That happens in the private sector."

Peter Soh, spokesman for Accenture, said the vendor and the state mutually terminated both contracts.

"The state expressed appreciation for Accenture's work completing three of the five Genesis subsystems -- wage detail, benefits payment control and unified desktop -- all of which are currently used in daily operations," Soh said. "Both Accenture and the state expressed disappointment that they could not come to terms on a revised implementation timeline for that election management system."

Huston said the legislative reforms fail to address a key issue in contract negotiations for major projects -- an imbalance in IT contracting expertise between state agencies and vendors.

Huston said the state should hire private-sector procurement lawyers who specialize in negotiating IT contracts to avoid vaguely written provisions in the future, and it was unfair to expect the state's in-house lawyers to take on EDS's attorneys who specialized in negotiating IT projects.

None of the recently passed project management bills mandate hiring such lawyers, Huston said, but agencies should still seek funding for them

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.