How to avoid time and cost overruns

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Fiona J Macfarlane
Managing Partner, British Columbia, Ernst & Young LLP

In today’s fast-moving world, all organizations are having to raise their game. Integrating new technologies, empowering people, encouraging entrepreneurship and becoming more responsive to customers and citizens are common demands.

For organizations steeped in a public service ethos, making these changes can prove particularly challenging. But public bodies also contain inherent strengths that, under the right leadership, can be harnessed to help reforms take hold.

An example of successful transformation in Canada shows that big public sector projects don’t have to be defined by headlines about missed deadlines and ballooning budgets.

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) is a crown corporation that provides auto insurance for the province’s citizens.

The Corporation is a mandatory insurer for injury coverage and also competes in the market against other insurers for optional coverage.

The organization has suffered from low investment and a lack of commercial focus. Recognizing these problems, the Corporation instigated a transformation program in 2009.

But three years later, the transformation appeared stuck in neutral, with little progress being made.

That was when Mark Blucher took over as President and CEO.

Under Mark’s leadership, the transformation has accelerated. The reforms include changing all of the organization’s portals, both for brokers and for customers, the information systems, the rating system, the claims system and the policy center.

So, how has he done it?

Culture challenge

He quickly identified culture as a key roadblock to progress. “Because it is a monopoly for about 55-60% of its business, the culture inside the organization was to think that we don’t have to be that good because customers have no choice,” says Mark.

“I approached it a different way, saying we have to earn the right to be the mandatory auto insurer, every day, by being better at what we do.”

This would require a big mindset change in the organization.

“There’s no single intervention around shift in culture. You have to move the strategy of the organization, to be clear and simple for people to have them understand what you’re focusing on,” says Mark.

He emphasizes the importance of recruiting the right people, training, getting the management layers right and measuring progress of individuals and the organization as a whole.

On time, on budget

Today, ICBC is a few weeks from the program’s final implementation, ahead of the deadline next year.

“We’re actually going to finish in 2016 and we’ll be under our budget allocation. On a project that’s going to run about seven years, that’s no mean feat,” says Mark.

Neither the insurance industry nor the public sector have a particularly strong record of getting major projects completed on time and on budget.

The story of Mark Blucher and ICBC shows that it can be done. What is his parting advice to others faced with a similar challenge?

“Plan multiple deliveries, to give confidence that you’re making progress. Don’t try and do everything yourself. Get experts to help you. And make everything simple, because complexity really does make it difficult to deliver.”


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This article is excerpted from the November 2016 edition of Citizen Today. See also these featured articles: