Air Force scraps useless $1 billion ECSS IT project

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The US Air Force has decided to scrap a $1 billion IT project rather than spend another $1 billion to make it work properly.The Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) was to be an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to replace over 200 legacy systems currently used by the Air Force. The goal of the project was to help the Air Force improve its logistical operations, make the most effective use of its resources, and improve communication with other stakeholders such as contractors. It was to be a key tool in helping the Air Force meet accounting and auditing requirements in 2017.

Starting in 2005, over $1 billion has been spent on the ECSS system, which a top Air Force official now describes as having ‘negligible’ capability. It is estimated that another $1.1 billion would be needed to complete the project and that even then, it would deliver only around 25% of its intended functionality and not be available until 2020.

“I am appalled at the limited capabilities the program has produced”

Air Force Comptroller Jamie Morin

The ECSS project has experienced problems similar to many large scale IT projects that ITGS students study in IT Systems in Organisations. In February 2012 the Air Force decided to scrap some features of the system as part of a restructuring effort – indicating that their requirements may have changed since the initiation of the project in 2005. This is in common with other large IT project failures (such as the FBI’s Sentinel system) which take place over a long period of time.The lead contractor on ECSS, Computer Sciences Corp (CSC) was fired after 4 years working on the project, though the reasons for this were not made clear. Worryingly, lessons do not seem to have been learnt, as CSC was awarded another $30 million contract with the Air Force later the same year.

With this in mind, the decision to scrap the project now seems like the best move – though why it took so long, and such a large amount of money to realise this is an important question. With $1 billion wasted, it is difficult to see how throwing more money at the problem would resolve it – and with a completion date of 2020, it is hard to see how the system would address requirement originally set 15 years previous. (For a case study of what happens when you throw good money after bad, look up the UK’s NHS National Programme for IT – a 7 year, £12.7 billion debacle).

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