IN HINDSIGHT, the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust should have greeted its consultants' claims\nwith more skepticism. But the real problem with the handling of the two software projects goes\nmuch deeper than that, says Christopher Hoenig, president of Solutions, a Washington, D.C.-\nbased independent consulting and training firm. Though the Trust did most things right during\nboth projects, he says, it erred in one critical area: It ceded project management responsibility\nto outside consultants and relied on well-written contracts to get out of jams. "This is something\nthat many, many organizations, public and private, fail on," says Hoenig, who is a former director\nof information management and technology issues at the U.S. General Accounting Office. "They\ndelegate authority that they themselves should keep, and they allow themselves to be divided and\nconquered."\n\nEven though most companies do not have the resources or the expertise in-house to manage complex\nsoftware projects, they must find a way to retain control over the consultants, he says--even if\nthat means hiring another consultant to help do so.Public sector organizations are particularly vulnerable in these situations, because they can\nafford to fail more often and longer than private sector companies. "Public sector organizations\ndon't go out of business and the customers can't fire them," says Hoenig. "You do see these kinds\nof big failures in the private sector, but they don't go on for eight years."If anyone was a hostage during those eight years, adds Hoenig, it was not the Trust project people,\nbut the Trust's customers and its customer service staff who spent those years thumbing through\npaper printouts to look up account numbers. The passing of the years didn't do much for the\nTrust's Honeywell-Bull mainframe, either. One of the system's more dramatic crashes even made\nit into the pages of the city newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, in October 1991, when the Trust\ncould not send out bills for two days. The system limped on while the Trust renewed its search\nfor a replacement.Stacey Davis, the Trust's lead business person on the utility-billing system project, is well\naware of what the customers and the Trust employees went through, but he is hard pressed to\nunderstand how the Trust could have avoided the debacles it faced, particularly with Affinity.\n"I've replayed the whole process in my head time and time again. And if I saw what I saw again,\nI would probably be more skeptical than I was. But I just don't know if it would have gotten me\nto something different," sighs Davis. "It's really difficult to deal with a complete untruth."