And you thought your software project was off-track!

The New York Times reports the F.B.I. believes its $170 million systems overhaul may be a total failure: F.B.I. May Scrap Vital Overhaul of Its Outdated Computer System. Recognized as a critical component to fighting terrorism, the FBI sought to develop a paperless solution with many customized features. From the following description of their current situation, it sure sounds like they need some upgrades:

As it stands now, the bureau's counterterrorism files are largely online, but investigators often may not have immediate access to data from other parts of the bureau. So, for instance, an agent may not be immediately aware of information from an investigation into credit-card fraud that could be relevant to a terrorism case. In addition, the bulk of the internal reports and documents produced at the bureau must still be printed, signed and scanned by hand into computer format each day, officials said.

Anyone who's been involved with critical, large-scale software development projects knows how hard they can be to complete (regardless of whether they're on time and/or budget). In a statement that will resonate with clients and consultants everywhere, a senior official from the FBI stated:

"I did not get what I envisioned" from the project…But he said the F.B.I. today had a better understanding of its computer needs and limitations as a result of the effort. "The lesson we have learned from this $170 million is invaluable," he said.

Jeez, it seems like you could have figured that out for a lot less than $170 million! A better use of the funds would have been $11.53 for The Myth of the Paperless Office, $33.24 for the classic The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, and $33.95 for the excellent Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.

So $170,000,000 – $78.72 leaves $169,999,921.28 to put towards requirements definition, prototyping, and ultimately programming. Surely overhauling such a massive system is a daunting, difficult challenge, but as Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont said, "Bringing the F.B.I.'s information technology into the 21st century should not be rocket science." When projects are this critical, and this expensive, they cannot be allowed to fail.