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Information Management Lets CSIRO Down

Information Management Lets CSIRO Down

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has improved its project management capability and its overall management of research projects, but its efforts are still being hampered by shortcomings in the quality of its management information.

The shortcomings limit CSIRO's ability to monitor the extent to which projects are delivered on time and to budget. Meanwhile a number of important aspects of its new corporate framework and policies for project management designed to show how individual projects contribute to research priorities have yet to be implemented in practice, in particular the use of project plans and project risk assessments. These weaknesses make it less certain CSIRO is choosing the optimal portfolio of projects.

These are the conclusions of a follow-up audit by the Australian National Audit Office, after ANAO Audit Report No.51 of 2001-02, Research Project Management - Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation made nine recommendations designed to improve research project management in CSIRO.

The follow up audit is designed to help CSIRO in its continuing efforts to enhance project management in the areas subject to recommendations in the previous audit, by including some suggestions to assist in this process.

The report finds CSIRO's management of research projects has improved with the establishment of a corporate framework and policies for project management, and that its efforts have been strengthened by the fact that it now documents how projects align with research priorities, more consistently plans and costs projects and more systematically conducts post-project reviews.

But it finds implementation of a key recommendation of the original audit - ensuring key management information systems contain reliable data - is a work in progress.

The ANAO found the quality of data had improved, with a number of Project Support System (PSS) project codes unrelated to specific projects having been removed, and with Divisions now more consistency accounting for project revenues, expenses and resulting surpluses in PSS, particularly for projects established since the new policy came into effect.

"However, there remain a number of areas where data within PSS is not consistent with the policy, or sound project management practice. This is particularly so for milestone and budget information. In many cases, this data is not available or is unreliable," the follow-up audit found.

"As discussed in Chapters 5 and 6, these data problems make it more difficult to monitor the extent to which projects are delivered on time and to budget."

Overall the audit finds CSIRO has implemented two of the nine recommendations made by the previous audit and subsequent recommendations by The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA), and has made progress in implementing five of the other recommendations. It hasn't implemented one recommendation relating to recording the achievement of milestones, and part of a recommendation relating to the use of explicit criteria in selecting projects.

And it finds CSIRO is continuing to enhance project management in the areas subject to recommendations in the previous audit.

"Overall, CSIRO's management of research projects has improved," it finds. "The establishment of a corporate framework and policies for project management underpins improvements. CSIRO also documents how projects align with research priorities, more consistently plans and costs projects and more systematically conducts post-project reviews.

"However, full implementation of some recommendations is hampered by shortcomings in the quality of management information. This limits CSIRO's ability to monitor the extent to which projects are delivered on time and to budget. Furthermore, despite CSIRO's efforts to ensure compliance, there remain a number of important aspects of its new framework which are not implemented in practice, in particular the use of project plans and project risk assessments."

CSIRO manages some 4500 research projects each year, at a cost of $824 million in 2003-04.

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