A Corona App could work!

By Ed van Doorn

ICT projects and government are often a tricky combination. So is the commotion surrounding the development of the Coronavirus App. Based on secure data exchange, it could map the spread of the coronavirus and thereby curb it. A nice aspiration but can such a thing succeed? Through the glasses of an Independent Critical Conscience, I go through the key success factors.

ICT projects and government are often a tricky combination. So is the commotion surrounding the development of the Coronavirus App.

The government and ICT, well a lot has already been written (negatively) about that. You only have to follow the Bureau ICT tests and you know that any project of over 5 million Euros is more often not successful than it is. Yet in our practice there are examples of how it can succeed. Even if you have to deal with political, public and societal pressure and rapid performance is expected. Interests, interest groups, experts and public debate add to the urgency. It is therefore complex and difficult to implement this kind of Corona App within a few weeks with political ambitions.

To make difficult projects with ICT such as a Corona App succeed, I offer 7 tips as an Independent Critical Conscience. From our years of experience in advising and implementing complex projects with ICT, we have collected seven success factors - or failure factors, if you like. When these are "in order", the corona app can be realised successfully.

  1. Efficiency. The ICT application fits the purpose. Of course, this app is potentially a "lifesaver". But have the risks around planning, for example, been sufficiently thought through.
  2. Organisation and direction. Well, seeing the selection process from shortlist to longlist makes you wonder whether you have set up the right selection criteria and governance. A number of consultants are already spouting their bile in the NRC article 18-4-2020.
  3. Furnished programme management and project leadership. You need experienced rot here who can lead organisation, results, benefits and "appatons" in coherence. A straight back to politics and decoupling the political timeline and user timeline helps maximise the success rate.
  4. Collaboration. Good to see that the ministry has brought together a sizeable multi-disciplinary team from medical, IT and privacy. However, it failed to have aligned principles beforehand. A communication strategy and clear guiding principles help guide grumbling in the public debate.
  5. Architecture and technical feasibility. Engineers are bickering about bluetooth or WiFi, central or decentralised storage. This is where the political architecture fears of the SPD of the past or AVG legislation of more recent times loom again. Every choice has limitations but you will have to weigh up principles such as security, simplicity and reliability as fundamental dilemmas. Think in small steps by starting small and gradually adding features over the months and years. Learn from the ING bank app. The first version could only check your bank account! Reusing what has already been developed also helps, provided it fits with the aligned principles.
  6. Time and money are not an issue for such noble endeavours. Although planning for feasibility will be the biggest risk. Haste is the mother of failure (Herodotos).

Benefits for the Netherlands BV. Like an intelligent lockdown, we will get an intelligent unlock. The use of a similar App in the austere city-state of Singapore has only 20% users. Dutch people are only going to download this if they see the benefit. But certainly not everyone. With transparent communication, privacy terms and social media, I think this is doable. However, don't expect short-term miracles. The benefits only lie in preventing/containing the next pandemic!

So, dear public sector, leverage your own OKG and engage your dissent, start small (even in expectations!). Establish guiding principles for selection, awarding, consulting and realisation. It can succeed! Have the above success factors in place then it is not a melon: green on the outside on objectives, red on the inside because of unfeasibility. With direction, leadership principles, planning and a firm communication strategy in place then it succeeds. With this App, you have a good tool in the arsenal of possibilities to curb the (next) pandemic in the Netherlands.

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 Ed van Doorn

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