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Murphy’s Law Lives!

Real estate, and consequently PARKING SPACE, is at a premium in Hoboken, the northern New Jersey town where I live.

Real estate, and consequently PARKING SPACE, is at a premium in Hoboken, the northern New Jersey town where I live. Because of those two facts, the city's decision almost 10 years ago to build a computer-operated, completely automatic garage on one residential block seemed logical. Using state-of-the-art technology developed in Germany, the automated garage promised to challenge the status quo in every way -- costs, performance, staffing, service and politics.

That was then. The garage finally opened in 2002, about five years behind schedule and way over budget. Since then, there have been numerous problems -- customers' cars have been inaccessible for hours (and even days) at a time and, in some cases, damaged because of technology glitches. Costwise, the garage has been a complete white elephant. Today, the city and Robotics Parking Inc., operator of the garage, are battling over terms of a new contract, with city officials refusing to pay a nearly $5,000-per-month increase in the fee for operations, maintenance and repair. In response, Robotics is threatening to terminate its contract and at press time had notified the 314 customers (fortunately, I am not one of them) using the garage that they would have to remove their cars within a week (much easier said than done in Hoboken). And it's not like the city can just fire Robotics and bring in a new company -- any new operator would have to develop compatible software since Robotics owns the licensing rights to the current system. Perhaps what's most galling is that, city politics being what they are, no one will ever be held accountable for the fiasco.

I tell this ugly tale to make the point that, when it comes to technology's promises and the realities of delivering on those promises, Murphy's Law prevails with surprising frequency. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, including the software (untested and ultimately inappropriate for this setting/application), management (greedy, arrogant, over-optimistic, poor communications, lack of partnership), pricing, project management and customer service (giving new meaning to unempowerment). No matter how strict your budgeting and RFP processes are, no matter how comprehensive and successful your IT governance procedures are, this kind of saga should give you pause -- or at least make you humble. It might be said that the only thing more difficult than successful IT execution is finding parking in Hoboken.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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