I wrote this timeline of the UW CECS.Online project up over period of time but actually I was able to assemble most of it from past research I had done. I refrained from editorializing so far in the post on UWS (which they posted to reader-directed content without telling me…) and on uw.general but now I’m going to do it here.

If you read the document you might notice that there’s a lot of predictions. In fact official sources predicted that they’d be done with CECS.Online in the following years: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, and now, the latest estimate is 2004. In other words, since 1997 they predicted they would be done within a year, almost every year. Estimating software completion is difficult and lots of projects take twice as long as initialy thought. CECS.Online, at latest estimate, has taken 7 times longer than initially estimated, if you accept the latest prediction.

What causes a foul-up like this? I think that the external Review of IT (PDF) was very insightful when they stated that UW no longer has an IT department capable of writing new applications. They make their point very subtly on page 6. I remember reading it initially and coming away with this implication quite clearly, but it’s difficult to pull out a direct quote. I can only assume that the authors did not wish to offend anyone directly. But their conclusion is clear.

What can be done? The matter rests in the hands of the provost and the other top administrators at UW. They will be appointing a new head of IST shortly as Jay Black’s term is just about up. It’s tempting to wonder who in their right mind would take the position without a clear mandate to clean up the mess. If the administrators give the new IST honcho a clear mandate to implement the recommendations of the review, I think that change can be made. One major change must be in personnel, in order to sideline the IST managers who are getting in the way of progress. Another must be an increase in budget so that IST can hire and retain quality people and give them space to do their job and do it well.

IST is an organization in the trenches. From the outside, it’s impossible to say for sure but they seem to have some serious personnel problems with some of their senior managers. It’s extremely difficult to get rid of people in a university bureaucracy. Aside from their internal problems, they have high expectations and low levels of respect. The rest of the university community quite rightly feels that it is an expert computing community. IST can be only of the highest quality to be respected in such an environment. And equally, to satisfy what must also be high expectations for results with lots of opinionated observers who think they could do it themselves (and probably can). There may well be a long-standing siege mentality at work.

In order to crack that open and restore functional IT service at Waterloo, changes are necessary. The external IT Review is a good roadmap for those changes. It will be interesting to see if the senior administration follows through.