How the US Air Force Wasted $1 Billion on a Failed Software Plan

The US Military makes its fair share of mistakes when it comes to technology—but over the weekend, the New York Times revealed that even upgrading a single software system can go horribly wrong for it.

The New York Times describes the situation:

Last month, [the Air Force] canceled a six-year-old modernization effort that had eaten up more than $1 billion. When the Air Force realized that it would cost another $1 billion just to achieve one-quarter of the capabilities originally planned - and that even then the system would not be fully ready before 2020 - it decided to decamp.

You might expect the project to be exotic and experimental. If that were there case, the expense and failure might be understandable, if not desirable. But in fact the project was the implementation of commercial off-the-shelf software. Known as the Expeditionary Combat Support System, the plan was to improve the management of logistics using software from Oracle. Four years of development—and over $1 billion dollars—later, and neither Oracle nor the Air Force have anything to show for their labors.

So what went wrong? According to the New York Times, the plan was scuppered by constant redesigns, poor time management and lack of accountability:

[The System] was restructured many times, including three separate times in the last three years, Ms. McGrath says. "Each time, we chunked it down, breaking it into smaller pieces, focusing on specific capabilities." But this was not enough to save the system, she says, because program managers did not succeed in imposing the short deadlines of 18 to 24 months that the department now requires for similar projects...

[A] report cited many concerns, but the main one was a failure to meet a basic requirement for successful implementation: having "a single accountable leader" who "has the authority and willingness to exercise the authority to enforce all necessary changes to the business required for successful fielding of the software."

If anything, we should be grateful that the Air Force decided to kill the project before it haemorrhaged more cash. If you want more detail, you should definitely read the Times piece. [New York Times]

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