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Commentary: BC Liberal's $211 million high-tech fiasco a "colossal failure" that should be scrapped

The following commentary was published on Feb. 3, 2013 in the Times Colonist newspaper:

Time to scrap province’s buggy computer system

by Darryl Walker, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union

If you went to your local store and paid $200 for a computer program that did not work, what would you do? Most people would return the item and request a replacement or ask for a refund.

What if you are the provincial government and have invested $200 million in a computer system that front-line staff and independent experts agree does not work?

Shouldn’t the same principles apply?

That is the question being raised by B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union members in the aftermath of yet another damning independent report about the Liberal government’s Integrated Case Management initiative.

The history of ICM is long, and for taxpayers, extremely costly.

In 2008, the government announced a contract worth nearly $18 million to begin development of a new case-management system to help front-line workers deliver service.

The new ICM system was promised in the 2010 speech from the throne as a way to improve service in both the ministries of Housing and Social Development and Children and Family Development. The province signed an agreement with Deloitte Inc. to develop this new system. Costs were estimated at $181 million over six years.

From the initial rollout in the Social Development Ministry, problems were immediately evident to front-line staff. We gave the ministry specific examples of the slow responsiveness of the system and how it delayed service to clients. The ministry agreed and promised action.

We also discovered the government authorized Deloitte Inc. to move some of the work outside B.C., subcontracting work to a subsidiary in India to save money.

Then things went from bad to worse.

When the system was rolled out in the child-protection system in the Children and Family Development Ministry, basic elements simply did not work. Data-input required repeated manual corrections. Inputs required three times the work of the old system. Staff suggestions for improvement were ignored. Significant privacy concerns arose.

In one bizarre example, the home page of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security appeared on workers’ computer screens.

Social workers were concerned that data could not be found and were fearful that information was being lost, putting children at risk.

An expensive computer system promised to make things more efficient for front-line staff had made things much worse.

By July of last year, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the representative for children and youth, added her voice and called ICM a “problem-plagued” system and raised safety concerns. The government agreed and spent another $12 million to try to fix the problems.

Finally last week, an initial report by an independent consultant revealed a litany of problems. The report said the current ICM system is not meeting child-protection needs. Basic business practices had not been followed. Industry-standard discipline and methodologies were not used. Accountability and governance structures were inadequate. The project had completely failed to engage and consult with front-line workers.

Turpel-Lafond put it best when she told the Times Colonist that the system is a “colossal failure.”

All of this led to Child and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux admitting last week that child-protection workers are using the old system while a solution is found to ICM problems.

So where does this leave B.C. taxpayers?

So far, this system has cost us $211 million that we know of. Untold dollars have been spent on staff time and bad service delivery to clients. The fixes tried so far have not worked.

BCGEU front-line workers have serious concerns about ICM’s fundamental suitability for child-protection and income-assistance work. They believe the system is so deeply flawed that it cannot be salvaged.

The independent report for the Child and Family Development Ministry has yet to make a final determination on whether this project can meet the needs of child protection. To date, no independent analysis has been done on the problems with ICM at the Ministry of Social Development.

The B.C. government needs to stop throwing good money after bad as it struggles to make the ICM system work. The province needs an independent analysis to answer the fundamental questions that surround this project.

Then, and only then, with the input of front-line staff, can we begin to develop a new case-management system, a system that serves clients, taxpayers and staff.

Click here to read the commentary at the Times Colonist website.