Anchorage IT director and mayoral candidate critical of city data system revamp

At a news conference Friday, Anchorage mayoral candidate Lance Ahern predicted that finishing the city's troubled SAP project, a major overhaul of its computerized business systems, would take four years and an additional $50 million if it stays on its current path.

Ahern is the chief information officer for the city, but he's also running for mayor. He made it clear Friday that he was speaking as a candidate, not from his position with the city. He said he's been excluded from executive conversations about the SAP project since January, when he made his concerns about the project known to executives in Mayor Dan Sullivan's administration.

The project is running three and a half years behind schedule and has cost $34 million to date. In October, chief fiscal officer Kate Giard halted the project to conduct two separate external reviews, one of which was a "quality assurance" review by SAP itself.

Ahern said the project should be completed now instead of being stopped and restarted. He said he's concerned the scope is being expanded in ways that are too costly. He also said he based his estimates about the additional time and money needed for the project on current cost and staffing levels.

"If the only choice is between killing this project or completing it on the path we are on now, I would definitely kill it right now," Ahern said.

Ahern said he decided to hold the news conference to discuss SAP after fielding questions about it from voters and other mayoral candidates. He said he shares blame for the project's rocky history and has posted his take of that history on his campaign website. But he emphasized he's not part of the core team making decisions today.

He also pushed back against characterizing SAP as an "IT project."


"It's not an IT project. It's a business project," Ahern said, adding that his department's staffing on the project was consistently adequate.

City officials said Friday they were surprised to hear his cost and time predictions and did not know the basis for them. In an email, Giard said scope changes have not been evaluated and any changes will be presented to the Assembly for final approval. She said a cost estimate will come late in the summer.

In an interview Friday, Mayor Dan Sullivan said Ahern had been talking about resigning for the last eight months. He said that uncertainty was taken into consideration when setting Ahern's role in recent months.

Sullivan said Ahern has been "integral" to the project for the last three and a half years, and that Ahern appeared to be minimizing his role. Both he and Giard said Ahern was on a steering committee that met on a near-daily basis in February to build a response plan to the SAP quality assurance review, and has met weekly in March.

Ahern said he has communicated his concerns to senior management as well as members of the Assembly. He said he acknowledges past problems, but he's now far more worried about the future.

He said that if he were mayor, he would take "personal ownership" of the project, find ways to do it cheaper and increase the pressure to finish it.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.