Tech Afrik – v4: A review of the Technology/System recently instituted in Ghana to support the Educational Sector as a case study, and a look into typical flaws that beg for undesirable outcomes. WERE THE SIGNS ON THE WALL from the very beginning?
The previous version, v3, of this publication offered an elaboration of the core concepts articulated in version 2, as requested by readers, on the use of external data and how they are materialized for African consumption within the context of integration of technologies and innovation into enterprises.
The enterprise computer system that was recently instituted in Ghana for education failed to achieve the expected result for some reason but it seems that many people have different views of why the system failed. The system was successfully deployed in production yet a core function failed to achieve the expected outcome, leading to panic in the stakeholder community across the country.
A core function of the system was to assign students in various districts to schools in or near their districts, but upon deployment the system assigned many children to schools far from their homes with some up to 100 miles away. This led to utter confusion, and some disorder, amongst parents and children across the country.
Interestingly, free SHS education topped the president’s list of promises to the nation during his campaign and I must commend him for setting his promise in motion. However, the failure of the underlying technology required to realize this promise certainly troubles many, even including some within his own political party.
Clearly, the president’s signature campaign promise, a key strategic priority, still needs some serious tune up. As it has been said, a president’s success is the people’s success and so we all join in wishing the president well.
Unfortunately, many third world countries lack the capacity to respond to catastrophic incidents, be it natural or technological, with agility.
Evidently, technology appears to be light years ahead of policy and management, as the nation’s institutional pillars are still growing. I have often said that technology, in and of itself, addresses nothing! I have insisted that there ought to be a need, vision, mission, objectives… for technology to be employed to facilitate attaining such end. In a nutshell, technology is only a means to achieve an end. For example, the array of orbiting satellites were not deployed before the world knew what to do with them. There was first communication need, and then overtime the world mastered the capabilities of the receptions from their signals and deployed applications for many downstream functions, hence the global positioning system (GPS) for worldwide navigation and surveying.
Accordingly, what exactly was the failed education technology supposed to accomplish? During political campaigns, politicians often make promises to voters on what they would seek to achieve for them if they are voted into power. Evidently many of such priorities are eventually abandoned or poorly deployed as they do not get the required commitment and oversight.
Clearly the failed education technology deployed in Ghana lacked sufficient technical oversight and competent subject matter expert (SME) support. THIS SHOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED!!! The technology leadership have a professional obligation to ensure that the system they were developing met the customer’s (Ghana’s) goal, while the Ghana SME’s were equally responsible for providing credible business logic/requirements and unambiguous success criteria to the technology team to do their job. I hold both responsible. Above all, both organizations clearly lack credible leadership who understands the technique, methodology, and have the experience to support a credible team to bring the monster they were building to fruition.
It is a national disgrace seeing women and children running up and down, sleeping in car lots and under trees to get a chance for their children to be assigned a school. One lady I saw in the media said she was fortunate to be assigned a school for her daughter, after traveling over 75 miles to the capital, Accra, and sleeping near office buildings for days. However, the school assigned to them was about 80 miles away from her visit and there is no way her daughter can get to school each morning as she was very poor and cannot even afford anything better than the mud house she lives in at her village. How free then is the education?
Given that this is the president’s number one campaign promise and he only has one year to finish his term, and the fact that there is still a whole lot to do, many are wondering if this unsuccessful program risks being eliminated by the next government, should the opposition win in the next election. The President’s technology advisors clearly need a shakeup!
What was the mission and how was the mission to be implemented? What did the statement of work say? Was there a process in place for monitoring and controlling the project throughout the development lifecycle? Where there retrospective meetings each step of the way? Was the right methodology employed? Did anybody understand what it would take to deploy such a large custom enterprise system? I even suspect that the underlying enterprise data model is faulty. What were the business processes? Do some of the existing business processes need to be re-engineered in order to lend themselves to technology? Was there a requirements management process in place? Who were the SME’s? Who was the product owner/lead? Did this person provide clear and unambiguous success criteria? Was a user acceptance test (UAT) conducted? Who are the users who conducted these tests? What really happened here? The gravity of the occurrence clearly suggests that those responsible were sleeping behind the wheel while implementing a key strategic priority of the President of the Republic of Ghana.
Where does Ghana go from here? Lots of pieces are missing, it appears. My questions above should hint what needs to be in place that were clearly not. Whatever impediments in the way must be eliminated. A credible traceability metric should have prompted more questions on how the system aligns with the requirements. So much is broken from my perspective, and a reactive mode might even compromise the integrity of the system, long term, as I learn that users/staff are logging into the system and manually changing records and entering names randomly. I would say this, they must follow the software development lifecycle (SDLC) and an appropriate framework/methodology credibly. Also get real experts involved.
Given that the system was already deployed, a tactical solution may include a FREEZE of the use of the system and manual takeover of key functions by functional experts to instill confidence and integrity into the process, as it is obvious that the use of the compromised system still produces bogus outcomes.
This should be paralleled with the following as tactical and long term system solutions. The short term systems solution should include a review of functional requirements, traceable metrics of each requirement to a test case all the way down to the code ensure that the tests accomplishes the expected results. Test cases must have 100% coverage of the use case/requirements, and each step of each test case must pass in order to be considered a pass. At a minimum, the system should produce a more reliable and expected output, with changing legislation and policy in mind.
For a long term fix, the team will have to go back to the drawing board to do the following: review the architecture; reconsider the methodology used; ensure that the data modules are properly built and effectively normalized; verify and validate the processes across for each phase of the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC); reconsider the tools used; and ensure that appropriate resources are committed. FIX ALL THE WEAK SPOTS to further ensure the following: that the system is scalable and can support a rapidly growing sector; consider agile methods; and more importantly, ensure that it produces the desired outcomes, as well as maintainable. Also ensure that industry standards (…in addition to necessary Ghana unique technology standards – which we must have to support African/Ghana unique contents) are employed to alleviate future integration and interoperability initiatives. Give the bigger picture a strategic view! This paragraph is intended for the leadership on both sides.
In a nutshell the whole system MUST BE REVIEWED BY A TRUE INDEPENDENT ENTITY TO MAKE CREDIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS AND FURTHER PROVIDE OVERSIGHT. I would caution that this is not politicized as this national investment, like others, is too important to fail.
I am tempted to talk about technology and methodologies such as Enterprise Architecture, AWS, Agile, Storyboard, Scrum, Velocity, git, JIRA, maven, JUnit, Jenkins, Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, manual Deployment (not continuous), puppet, Chef, docker, splunk etc. etc. etc. (tools, available today, that may need consideration for such and many efforts ahead) but I would limit this article to plain English for the benefit of the broader user community. I will however be happy to engage the technical community to share ideas on how to effectively deploy such enterprise systems, and the management community on how to manage such monsters.
Dr. Michael Buadoo Email: [email protected]
Consultant/Management, - National & International Development, U.S.A
Information Technology, Software Engineering (Enterprise Systems)