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The debate on the Biometric Voter Registration has taken an unfortunate and impractical twist due to misinformation by politicians and the usual busybodies in Kenya. For the Executive and political class to insist that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission must implement BVR six months to elections is to invite disaster.

The issue around BVR at this point is not just about procurement. The main problem around BVR is implementation. BVR is not just a briefcase with sophisticated equipment. It is an integrated information system that comprises hardware, software, data, processes and people. Procurement will only deal with hardware. The devil is in implementing the software and ensuring the information system unlocks the promised benefits. Unfortunately, our politicians have hyped the benefits and created expectations of unrealistic dimensions.

As such, they will be a constant irritant in the implementation process. Let us assume that Kenya issues a purchase order to the Canadian company to supply BVR effective today. It will take no less than 20 weeks for the solution to go live, in a usable state. This is because information systems implementation projects must go through certain stages that are known as the systems development life cycle (SDLC). There are alternatives to the SDLC, including agile methods that advocate for rapid systems implementation. But for a solution of the magnitude and sensitivity of the BVR, an agile approach will not provide the required assurance of rigour.

I will attempt to explain my 20 weeks theory. The first stage will involve hardware mobilisation and delivery, as well as project team set up. Considering that the equipment is coming from Canada, this could take at least four weeks to deliver. At this stage we will also ask whether IEBC has a well-resourced business systems team to execute the project. It would be a disaster if the project team was exclusively manned by the Canadians and mandarins from the Executive.

The second stage is requirements specification. It is arguable whether this should be done before the equipment is delivered, since the defined requirements will influence the choice of hardware. Based on my experience, this should be done before equipment orders and delivery. Let us assume this stage takes another four weeks. This is the most important stage in a systems project and shortcuts will deliver “a camel instead of a goat”. Once requirements have been defined, the third stage is system configuration.

Remember that the BVR will be supported by a database and application programming back end. This must be configured to accommodate data that will be captured at the registration centres. Let us assume this takes a further four weeks. The fourth stage will be user acceptance testing, where IEBC and other project stakeholders confirm that the solution meets the defined requirements. In many systems project this stage is usually drawn out, but in the case of IEBC we can assume it will take four weeks. The fifth stage will be end user training, and this will draw the thousands of officials recruited to carry out BVR registration at the grassroots. Again this could take four weeks assuming that all officials are pulled out of “business as usual” activities. After this stage we can Go Live and start using the BVR solution.

Going by my conservative estimates, biometric voter registration will begin mid-December. Does this give ample time to register 18 million voters for a March 2013 election? What if there are delays in concluding the project in the 20 weeks, as is typical of many IT projects? Will we have a fall back plan that will be accepted by Kenya’s political vultures? I submit that we are playing with fire by insisting on the BVR so late in the day. Yet biometric voter registration is only one part of the problem.

There are other questions regarding voter authentication on the day of voting. Will this be done using biometrics? Will there be sufficient time for voter education? How long will it take an average voter to be authenticated and cast a vote for all the representatives? What will be the data model, i.e, will IEBC use a centralised database or will each polling station use a locally cached database? How do you avoid disenfranchisement due to system malfunction? Will there be adequate time to test and train election officials?

From a business perspective, I would dissuade IEBC from implementing BVR for the 2013 elections, and encourage them to perfect their tallying system. But then again, Kenya being Kenya, politicians will want to have the last word with disastrous consequences to the ordinary man.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Ondo Semakookiro

Quelle/Source: The Star, 10.08.2012

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