One week into the job, Anchorage's new chief fiscal officer is rolling out an aggressive push to bring a troubled city software project into line.
At an Assembly work session Friday afternoon, Kate Giard, who previously served as chief fiscal officer under Mayor George Wuerch, unveiled preliminary recommendations for the SAP project, including a new management structure. The project, which is designed to automate many functions of municipal government, is budgeted at $31.6 million -- more than three times the planned amount and running more than two years behind schedule.
Giard, who under Wuerch oversaw an upgrade to the faulting Peoplesoft system, formally took over for Lucinda Mahoney last week. Mahoney left Mayor Dan Sullivan's administration Sept. 12 to work in the private sector.
On Friday, Giard had sharp words for the project, which she said she's spent the last month observing. She described project management staff are "virtually nonexistent," and tools to track and follow changes in the process are "totally insufficient."
Giard also described a "prevalence of fear" among city employees working on the project.
"There's fear everywhere," Giard told Assembly members. "And I want you to be aware that fear is devastating for the success of this project."
Better supervision, tracking needed
In a phone interview after the work session, Giard said bringing the project to completion will be central to her job.
"I think this is the reason the mayor hired me," Giard said,. She pointed to a background that includes helping take the Regulatory Commission of Alaska paperless and working as finance director for Anchorage-based software developer RDI Inc.
Giard said the cost and time spent on the SAP project are not unusual. That stemmed, she said, from a failure to invest in the Peoplesoft system, which she said was never fully implemented or maintained.
Giard said she has been tasked with conducting a 60-day "scrub" of the SAP project. Her preliminary recommendations, the results of two weeks of work, include a new management structure aimed at tightening supervision and a web-based tool to better track the project's progress.
In an interview, Mayor Dan Sullivan called Giard's recommendations "a good start." He said he hired her because of her experience in managing city affairs as well as putting operating systems into place.
"Her job includes bringing this project to a closure," Sullivan said.
Lack of staffing, supervision led to delays
At Friday's work session, Giard observed that there has been no way to capture and audit the thousands of back-and-forth email messages documenting steps in the SAP project.
"That is not standard project management that you would want on a project this large," Giard said.
She said she's looking into whether a tool created by RDI, her previous employer, can be harnessed by the municipality. Giard, who previously worked as finance director for RDI, said the company has offered to let the city use the software, called Project Tracker, for free.
The software, which would track the project's progress, would come with an implementation charge of $125,000, according to a packet distributed by Giard.
"This is my recommendation of a fast tool we can get in place," Giard told the Assembly members. "And we need this tool."
In her presentation, Giard also highlighted issues with management and supervision. The project consultant, The Peloton Group, and Anchorage administrators have both linked delays in the project to a lack of staffing.
But Giard said the absence of a layer of supervisors in the management structure also appeared to be playing a large role. Her recommendations include adding layers of supervisors, reinforcing the authority of the employee leading the internal project management team and including the municipal controller in the decision-making process.
Giard said she is also concerned about whether the SAP system could calculate payroll, based on the complexity of the city's payroll calculations. In the follow-up interview, Giard said that concern was based on litigation between SAP and the state of California, with the state contending that the SAP system didn't calculate payroll properly.
She said she spoke Friday morning with the executive vice president of SAP America, who has agreed to send a solutions engineer to Anchorage to evaluate the city's payroll configuration for free.
Fear and frustration
Giard closed her presentation to the Assembly with a vivid description of the fearful atmosphere surrounding the project. A fear of failure extends to every level, Giard said, and the city staffers working on the project feel a sense of failure as well as a lack of recognition for the work they've already done.
In part, Giard said, staffers feel the municipality lacks the support to move forward. Addressing Assembly members, she said, "You're the policymakers. You're either in or you're out."
She said that decision doesn't have to come now as she won't complete her "scrub" of the project until mid-November.
"But we have to make that decision affirmatively. I think that the tools we're putting in place and management and restructuring will help alleviate the fear," Giard told the Assembly. "But really, more than anything else, it's got to come from you guys."
Her words drew forth visible frustration. Assembly member Paul Honeman said he's concerned about trust after years of shifting deadlines. Bill Evans said that while he's committed to the project, he wants assurance that it's going to work and will be completed by a certain date.
"It can't continue like this," Evans said, calling the project "a complete dumpster fire."
Eagle River's Amy Demboski used even stronger language directed at the mayor.
"(Sullivan) needs to get his damn act together," she said. "It's time the city gets what they paid for. $31 million is not a joke."
Of the cost, Assembly member Dick Traini pointedly asked Giard: "Where is it going?"
"Higher," Giard answered, without hesitation.
Traini then asked the expected launch date.
"Don't know," Giard said.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing