QUT students design a $500 cloud-based census server four times better than IBM’s $9 million system.

This article about two university students creating a system over a weekend that “could handle nearly 40 times as many census submissions per second” made a not-unjustified mockery of the Australian government’s much publicised tech fail over the census.

In this day and age, there was no excuse for the failure; which looked like a combination of inaccurate planning, poor design and mistakes in implementation. Sadly, not atypical of government projects.

But I digressed.

The $500 server exercise highlighted just how much of the cost of any project is the people component. Relatively speaking, the technology is the easy part. The hard parts are: getting people to agree with each other and to work together. I would contend that a huge proportion of the $9 million spend was on meetings, reports, more meetings, responding to and managing ego-driven demands, responding and working with fear (real or imagined), and generally dealing with the human conditions of procrastinations, distractions, and recalcitrances.

These are the real conditions of working with groups of people. And they are real costs that are unavoidable.

It would be interesting to see breakdowns of major projects in terms of technical costs and people costs. I would wager the people costs are magnitudes larger than the technical costs.

This means the next frontier in productivity and efficiency is in the people component, especially in emotional intelligence. We can be so much better at thinking critically, being self-aware, maintaining healthy boundaries, tempering egos, and managing strong emotions.