Public Sector BI Incompatible with “Leaps of Faith”?

A couple of recent Boston globe articles talk about IBM/Cognos returning $13m because of bidding irregularities and questions over conflict of interest.

I’ve been competing with Cognos for over 15 years, and I consider them a very ethical organization. The big problem seems to be simply that state was very keen to implement performance management, and so missed a few steps in the process.

State senator Salvatore F. DiMasi is apparently a fan of performance management, and the Massachusetts Department of Education was required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act to generate reports about student, staff, and program performance.

This led local districts to start purchasing their own software, so the state decided on a larger, centralized data warehouse with data about students, teachers, and finances across the state.

The RFP process doesn’t seem to have gone smoothly, since Cognos was selected despite coming fifth on a scoring system that considered cost and other factors. I believe many (most?) RFPs are a waste of time and money, but they’re essential for transparency in the public sector, and if you’re going to do them, you have to at least pay lip service to the results.

Interestingly, the state was “sharply criticized” for doing something that I consider is almost a success factor for BI: taking a leap of faith that better access to data will bring improvements, without knowing exactly how the software will be used:

“the inspector general is urging that the administration first determine whether it needs to make such an expensive purchase. Before rebidding the contract, he said, the state should talk to employees “to see how or if they would use such a type of software.”

(For more on why I believe this, see point three of this post, or review this presentation).

Overall, there was apparently no great dissatisfaction with the Cognos software, so the biggest result is to delay 20,000 people from improving the Massachusetts education system through better performance management.