America's Virtual Fence: A Failure in Design and Innovation

Steve Kroft put together a great piece on America’s proposed virtual fence along the border of the U.S. and Mexico for the weekend’s Sixty Minutes show. What particularly struck me was Kroft’s incredulous question to Mark Borkowski, Executive Director of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), who is overseeing the Department of Homeland Security’s implementation of the new system, the design of which was awarded to BA back in 2006. “I’m kind of amazed they’re building what’s going to be this multi billion dollar system for the border patrol and no one asked the border patrol what they wanted, what they needed or what would be helpful,” Kroft posited. Borkowski responded by acknowledging the “huge mistake” that had occurred in the development process, which no more accounted for the real needs of those on the ground than it did consider the harsh conditions in which the system had to work. As a result, Kroft reported, years and billions of dollars have been wasted (the program is still only in its early stages, when it should by rights have been completed by now). It’s a clear example of what happens when the innovation and design thinking process breaks down (or is ignored altogether). Here, gross assumptions were made, legwork was not done and the result is a billion dollar debacle. Boeing did not comment in the segment, but it was a real indictment of all the players involved, and a textbook example of the need to keep users at the center of a project from the outset rather than merrily barrel along clutching nothing more than a quiver full of received wisdom.

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