NRPP is Dead26 Nov 2016
Long live NRPP!
The Natural Resource Permitting Project (NRPP) is now mired down, having failed to deliver on its ambitious promises to transform the sector with “generic frameworks that will support the ‘One Project, One Process’ model”.
But, as my ‘ole grand-pappy used to say to me: “When the going gets tough, the tough redefine success so they can still declare victory.”
Accordingly, success re-definition is under way at NRPP. Success will no longer be a generational transformation in how government manages natural resources; success will now be submitting formerly paper forms using web forms.
But wait, I said NRPP is “mired down”, how can I tell? By measuring the outputs against the inputs.
Lots of Money Going In
NRPP has been ongoing in various forms and names since before 2013, and for at least the last two years has been carrying a staff/consultant complement that I’d estimate costs about $17M per year. I’ve heard estimates of expenditures to date of over $50M, and that is consistent with my back-of-the-envelope calculations.
So, $50M or more in. What’s come out? (Worth remembering, successful $1B start-up companies have been built for less.)
Not So Much Coming Out
In March of 2016, the Executive Director of NRPP gave a progress update to the Deputy Ministers Committee on Transformation and Technology (DMCTT). Good news: “year 2 of the initiative has been delivered on time, on scope and on budget”.
- Clients can now access NRS online services for guidance, information and map-based data to support applications for authorizations
- 290 data layers are now accessible through NRS Online Services
- Hunters will be able to register online for the Limited Entry Hunt in mid-April 2016
- Legislation will be introduced in Spring 2016 to move selected Fish and Wildlife authorizations to a criteria based notification model
All of these assertions are superficially true, but even from my perch far outside the warm light of the inner circles of government, it’s laughably easy to find substantial caveats and concerns about all four of them.
I really wonder what the is purpose of reporting to high-level “oversight” committees like DMCTT, if the committees just accept the reports and do not bother to do any independent verification and research.
If you have only the information and spin from the project in front of you, no matter how piercing and direct your analysis is, you’re never going to really be able to ask the tough questions, because the key information will be hidden or obfuscated.
This is why so much “oversight” seems to devolve into reductive discussions of schedule and budget, the only metrics that all participants are guaranteed to understand and that all projects are required to provide.
Feel free to deliver a product that fails to meet your user needs – the big boss will never notice. But slip your schedule by 2 weeks, and the fiery wrath of God will descend upon you. Project management and communication is optimized accordingly.
I want to look closely at each of the pieces of good news about “year 2”.
Clients can now access NRS online services for guidance, information and map-based data to support applications for authorizations
Back? How did it go?
I’ll wager you didn’t find the actual Natural Resource Sector Online Services portal, which though online seems to be linked to from nowhere, outside or inside the BC government.
This puts the claim that “clients can now access NRS online services” a little in doubt. Sure, they “can” access the services, but since the services are basically hidden, do they access the online services?
This new portal is one of the products of the $50M spent so far. It has an “OK” design, a bit wasteful of screen real estate and bandwidth, but clean and not too “last century”.
The portal also has a bunch of content and links to existing processes, which would be more impressive if they were not duplicative of content and links already assembled and put on the web (in the last decade) by Front Counter BC.
The $50M folks at NRPP appear to have mostly taken the content from Front Counter BC and re-skinned it using their modern web design, but provided vanishingly little value beyond that.
- Here’s the info on forestry activities from Front Counter and here’s the info from NRPP.
- Here’s the info on Christmas Tree permits from Front Counter and here’s the info from NRPP.
Re-packaging existing in-house knowledge and claiming it for your own is an old consultant trick from way, way back. Mark Twain once joked that “an expert is anyone who comes from more than 60 miles away”, and little seems to have changed since his time.
290 data layers are now accessible through NRS Online Services
Indeed they are, at least quite a few layers, I didn’t bother to count. However, like the portal, the mapping application is a recapitulation of functionality that government has been providing for a decade. Way back in 2002, the “Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management” was tasked to “deliver a corporate land and resource information data warehouse”: that is, a collection of all the land information in BC, and a web view of those layers. The warehouse and web maps have been around in various forms ever since.
In many technical respects the NRS map is superior to the old ImapBC (it’s more modular and reusable) but for the purposes of this post note that (a) like the portal it’s carefully hidden from public view and (b) it’s still not a net-new gain of functionality on a project that’s $50,000,000 in.
Hunters will be able to register online for the Limited Entry Hunt in mid-April 2016
Again, this is true, but yet again there’s less there than meets the eye. NRS was going to transform resource tenuring: one account for all users; new modern and modular technology; change the way the land base is managed.
None of that has happened here.
I took the app for a test drive (not so far as applying for a license, though maybe I should have) and what stuck out for me is:
- The business process is basically “paper form on the web”. You still need a special “Hunter Number” to apply – the business process clearly hasn’t been transformed at all, nor integrated into a “one process” framework.
- Technologically, if you peel back the web code and look underneath, the whole thing is being managed by a system called “POSSE”.
So the “new” Limited Entry Hunt app has the same smell as the portal itself. Finding themselves unable to meet their stated goals of business transformation and new technology, NRPP is now building Potemkin deliverables using old business process and old technology.
Of course, having met one deliverable by giving up on “transformation” and just stuffing existing business process into web forms, what are the odds that NRPP will go on to do the same for the whole portfolio and then declare “victory”? Very high, very high indeed.
Legislation will be introduced in Spring 2016 to move selected Fish and Wildlife authorizations to a criteria based notification model
This was the only promise not tied to technology deliveries, and sadly it looks like it perished at the hands of a government too tired out to pass substantive legislation. I searched the Hansard for the spring 2016 session and did not find any evidence that the legislation was introduced.
On one side of the ledger:
- $50,000,000 in spending, an army of consultants and staff, in fact a whole “Transformation Secretariat”.
On the other side of the ledger:
- A “portal” nobody can find, full of content other people assembled.
- A map nobody can find, full of content that has been accessible for a decade.
- An app built on old technology using the same old business process.
- Legislation that was not introduced.
Here are the things we cannot blame this on:
- Stupid people
- Bad intentions
- Political shenanigans
- Graft or corruption
Here are the things we can blame this on:
- Excessive size and ambition of the project
- Elevation of process over product
NRPP was/is a mistake. It’ll deliver something, in the end, but that something won’t be worth 10% of the money that is spent to achieve it. Hopefully NRPP is the last of the “transformation” projects to come out of government, and future business process improvement/integration efforts can evolve incrementally over time, at 10% of the cost and 10% of the risk.