The National Audit Office analysed why the state’s software development projects fail at times

Toomas Mattson | 9/11/2019 | 11:00 AM

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TALLINN, 11 September 2019 – The National Audit Office analysed on the basis of the development of nine information systems of the state whether, and if yes, why the state’s software development projects fail in order to find generalised risks and use the results of the to make recommendations on how to reduce or avoid problems in the future.

The audit indicated that four of nine analysed software development projects failed: the Estonian Research Information System (ETIS2), the information system for bailiffs for carrying out execution proceedings (e-Täitur), the second version of the social protection information system (SKAIS2) and the identification and proceedings information system of the Police and Border Guard Board (UUSIS). A project was considered a failure if it was not implemented with the allocated budget, by the agreed time and with the required functionality.

In summary, projects failed for the following reasons:

  • ETIS2 – the requirements to the information system changed due to the changes made in the area of research, which is why they had to be introduced to the information system as it was being developed, and the development plan was also too optimistic.
  • E-Täitur – the leader of the development project did not take the needs of users into account, the roles and tasks of the people participating in the project were not clearly described, the cooperation of the parties was also plagued by problems.
  • SKAIS2 – the processes of the principal activities were not described or optimised and legislation was often amended, which is why changes had to made to ongoing developments; the roles and tasks of the people participating in the project were not clearly described, the cooperation of the parties was plagued by problems; financing problems also appeared.
  • UUSIS – legislation was often amended, there was a lack of developers and money, the developers changed, control of the quality of the development was inadequate and updating the outdated information system was difficult.

Parties encounter various risks during software development. The majority of the risks has an impact on whether the software is completed at the right time and within the scope of the allocated budget, and whether it will have all of the planned functions. The most common risks are as follows:

  • Goals are set and worded incorrectly or inadequately.
  • The content of the software is unclear, the people working on the content of the development don’t know what exactly they’re supposed to do.
  • The people involved don’t know how to accurately describe the requirements of the people working on the content.
  • Legislation is amended when the software development project is ongoing and changes must therefore be made in the planned development, ongoing development or completed information system.
  • The knowledge of the contracting entity’s project manager or the contractor’s project manager or both is inadequate.
  • The software developer has little experience or is not competent enough, as a result of which the quality of the completed software is low.
  • Incorrect estimation of the scale and time of the development means that the development will take more money and time from the developer and the contracting entity.
  • Risks related to management, such as inadequate cooperation, poor information exchange, inadequate interest of the management, poor inclusion of people with good knowledge of required content, undetermined areas of responsibility, etc.
  • The funding allocated to the project is inadequate.
  • The number of team member is not sufficient, their knowledge is not good enough, team members change.
  • Technological risks, e.g. the selected software platform proves to be unsustainable, a closed source code is usedor there are legal restrictions, the implementation process is complicated, errors have not been identified or are hidden.
  • Risks related to testing and receipt, poor version management, problems related to uploading the development outcomes.
  • There is no functioning project plan or it is ignored.

In summary, the following success factors of software development can be highlighted on the basis of the assessment of nine projects:

  • The processes of principal activities must be described and optimised before the start of software developments, so that the software prepared as a result of the developments can make the principle activities more efficient and offer working e-services.
  • The described and optimised process of principal activities must be approved by the representative of the area of the principal activity, i.e. the main user of the information system. The end users of the system should also be included in the process.
  • More attention should be paid to the people included in software development teams. It’s particularly important to find competent project managers and key persons on whom the success of software developments depends.
  • It’s impossible to recommend the best or universal software development methodology that suits everyone. However, it would be advisable to carry out software developments in smaller stages, as it would reveal any problems in the development earlier and the necessary corrections could be made in good time.
  • The people who will participate in the project must be trained before the software development projects (e.g. to explain to them what the software development process is, how it is carried out, who are the participants). The roles, tasks and responsibility of the participants in the projects must also be clarified in the initial stages of the project.
  • Feedback about the usability of the information system and the satisfaction of users with the system must be requested from the users of the information system regularly (preferably once a year) and this information must be used when planning new developments.
  • The need for establishment or updating of information systems must be taken into account when legislation is prepared, so that the information system developments can be completed by their deadlines and it would be possible to implement the legislation.


The objective of the audit was to find out whether and why the software developments of the public sector fail. The best practice of various agencies or areas of administration in software development was reviewed in the audit and most important success factors and reasons of failure were assessed.

Significant amounts of money are spent on software development and the finished software or information systems have an important role in the management of the public sector and the provision of services.

232 information communication technology (ICT) projects in total were completed with European Union support in the budget period from 2007-2013 for the total cost of 53.4 million euros. According to the most recent budget forecast of the National Information Society Development Plan, 223 million euros should be spent on ICT solutions from 2014-2020. For example, 46 million euros of European Union support can be used during this budget period for the development of a smart service infrastructure and 99 million euros can be used for the development of the provision of public services.

According to the administration system for the state information systems (RIHA), there are about 1000 information systems in the public sector, which provide various e-services to residents and officials. More than 1,500 services have been described by now. The services must be published in the central catalogue of the service of government agencies managed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and, if possible, also on the website of the agency that provides the service.

During the audit, the National Audit Office analysed the development of nine information systems in the area of government of eight ministries: the register of construction works, i.e. EHR, the administration system of the state information system, i.e. RIHA (both Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications), the Estonian Research Information System, i.e. ETIS (Ministry of Education and Research), the software system for the enforcement proceedings of bailiffs, i.e. e-Täitur (Ministry of Justice), the information system of environmental decisions, i.e. KOTKAS (Ministry of the Environment), the system of support for the development of rural life, i.e. MATS (Ministry of Rural Affairs), the Public Procurement Register, i.e. RHR (Ministry of Finance), the social protection information system, i.e. SKAIS (Ministry of Social Affairs) and the identification and proceedings information system of the Police and Border Guard Board, i.e. UUSIS (Ministry of the Interior). The organisation of software solutions in the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was also reviewed.


Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of the National Audit Office
+372 640 0777
+372 513 4900
[email protected]
[email protected]

  • Posted: 9/11/2019 11:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/10/2019 10:08 AM
  • Last Review: 9/10/2019 10:08 AM

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