Honors Program: Germany's Labor Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit)

Project Name: Virtual Labor Market (VAM)

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What were the most important obstacles that had to be overcome in order for your work to be successful? Technical problems? Resources? Expertise? Organizational problems?

From a technical perspective, the greatest difficulty was the migration of data from the legacy systems to the newly developed portal. First of all, the data volume was massive. About 2 billion individual datasets had to be migrated in only 6 tranches of maximal 3 days each while day-to-day-operations on the IT systems had to go on undisturbed. The data quality from the legacy systems was quite poor, as it was predominantly unstructured and had to be converted into a structured format for the new system. Furthermore, a considerable part of the existing data was not validated which made the migration process even more complex. To make matters worse, the decentralised structure of the legacy systems led to a high amount of duplicate datasets. Methods of recognition and appropriate treatment of duplicates had to be designed to ensure the required quality of data. The data migration team successfully solved all those difficulties by developing highly sophisticated tailor-made processes that in combination fulfilled all requirements of runtime, data quality and performance.

However, the challenges faced in implementing the Virtual Labor Market were not only technical. Legal reforms as well as administrative changes -- such as the internal reform process in order to change the BA into a service oriented business -- had a very high impact on the project management since permanent adaptations of the new system were inevitable. One part of the reform for example -- Hartz IV -- brought together unemployment benefits and social security benefits and led to significant organizational changes. Due to those changes the original expected amount of active internal users rose from 30,000 to 100,000. This significant extension of the target audience was not only a challenge to system performance but also added new groups of stakeholders with sometimes competing requirements and expectations.

Often the most innovative projects encounter the greatest resistance when they are originally proposed. If you had to fight for approval or funding, please provide a summary of the objections you faced and how you overcame them.

The implementation of the Virtual Labor Market was part of a massive organizational and IT-transformation of Germanys Labor Agency. As the project was seen as one piece of the partly unpopular Labor Market Reforms, all development phases were under political observation and bad news were picked up by the public immediately. This increased the pressure on members of the project. However, by adhering strictly to the principles of effective project management and by delivering a product of high quality, the development partners could dispel any doubts that existed in the Virtual Labor Market. BA employees have been confronted with a lot of changes to deal with in recent years. The most obvious change was the implementation of the Virtual Labor Market. The reform was difficult especially for those employees who were used to the old practices and processes. VerBIS, the internal portal of the Virtual Labor Market, became the new central application for most of the 100,000 internal users. It replaced the two legacy systems which were intuitive for those who knew how to handle them but hard to learn for new employees. By contrast, VerBIS, designed as a modern web-based application, was not easier for experienced employees than it was for new ones. As a consequence internal hierarchies were disrupted. The new job matching technology was so different from the standard search mechanisms used previously that some employees would not trust the new technology but conducted the same searches in the old and new system and compared the results in print. Only the flexible reaction of the project team to complaints and feedback, as well as the speedy incorporation of user requirements into the software, opened up the employees to the many benefits the Virtual Labor Market brings to their daily work to help to ease its adoption.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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