Best Invention Since Sliced Bread Caused Near Embassy Collapse in Addis

Ethiopia, Mursi womanImage by * hiro008 via Flickr

I’ve written previously about that new innovative service at State called eServices here. Well, there’s a really “hilarious” part from a recent OIG report that talks about it.

The team (presumably from the mothership) had one week to install and train US Embassy Addis Ababa on eServices.  It was able to train 200 out of the 1200 potential users but provided no systems integration support. It did provide some “inaccurate or incomplete” training materials (aka: useless materials) according to the report. Along the way, it just happened to disabled all other service requests systems — never mind that more than half the mission did not know how to use this grand innovative systems just installed.  Oops, almost forgot, also calculated badly the bandwidth demands of these programs in a host country with a “creaky” information system. 

Below is an excerpt of the most recent OIG inspection report of the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:  

The embassy had not prepared for the eServices installation before the arrival of a Collaborative Management Initiative team in June 2009. The team, in fact, arrived just prior to a wholesale turnover in the management section and at the same time the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Office of Safety, Health and Environment team was in Addis Ababa to install the DriveCam program.

Although the embassy was clearly unprepared for such a shift in operations, the team installed the entire eServices suite of programs and disabled other service request systems. The team had scheduled only a week at the embassy to install the new system and train service providers and users. The team provided no systems integration support to help the embassy adapt their processes to the new tool. The team provided generic e-Services training materials, some of which were inaccurate or incomplete, and did not address how the tool is used in Embassy Addis Ababa. Only 200 of the potential 1,200 users were trained. Summer turnover for the mission exceeded 50 percent and new arrivals did not know how to use e-Services. In an embassy already beset with management challenges, this one caused a near collapse. Both the eService and DriveCam programs needed significant bandwidth to run— something in short supply in Ethiopia where the government-controlled information systems are creaky at best.

The OIG team found that most e-Services components are not working well. It will be months before they are useful to customers, service providers, and managers. Customers have access to the program and its instructions, which on the surface appear to be intuitive and user friendly, but in reality often leave users unclear on how to navigate the user interface to request a particular service. In many cases, eServices does not effectively convert customer requests to meaningful orders that can be filled by service providers. Service providers noted that e-Services often complicated their jobs and required them to create work-arounds. The e-Services’ objective to match the embassy’s operating results with ICASS service standards is far from reality. All of this has far reaching implications in a management control context—the management office finds it difficult to deliver timely and quality services and customers are often left frustrated and unhappy.

Recommendation 27: The Under Secretary for Management’s Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation, in coordination with Embassy Addis Ababa and the Foreign Service Institute, should create an effective system of customer service and support within the eServices framework. (Action: M/PRI, in coordination with Embassy Addis Ababa and FSI)

One might argue that the install team did the job; the team did install the new system of innovation in one corner of Africa.  Yep, and that they did.

Ahnd so we’ll end here with another bureaucratic love story and one more frustrated ending. Frankly, a few more reports like this could soon make eServices synonymous with outnovation.  A word not yet in the dictionary, but will get there eventually with some help.

Related Item:
OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-51A, Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 2010

Related Post:
eServices: The Best Invention Since Sliced Bread! | March 10, 2010