Computer system cost control needed: auditor

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B.C. Auditor-General Carol Bellringer

B.C.’s auditor general is recommending a new oversight system for information technology project costs, as the province struggles to update old computer systems that control everything from vehicle insurance to health records.

The B.C. government spent $668 million on information technology in the last fiscal year, Auditor General Carol Bellringer said in a report released this week.

Bellringer reported in 2015 that a health ministry system to track infectious diseases ran more than four times over its original budget and was five years late. The province’s Integrated Case Management System for vulnerable children and adults was declared complete only after its function was downgraded.

And a student data system for school districts, implemented for $95 million to replace another system that had proven costly and unreliable, had its own glitches and slowdowns when it was put in place for the 2015 school year.

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong says information systems are among the most difficult projects to manage for government, which often lacks the in-house expertise to supervise them. The government says it is moving ahead on Bellringer’s recommendation to set up central oversight of projects across the government, and mandate letters for all ministries next year will require significant IT projects to be reported to the responsible minister.

NDP critic Bruce Ralston said the government recently fired the main contractor for its “Clinical Systems Transformation Project” in the health ministry, an $842 million system with an uncertain future.

He said other IT projects that ran into trouble and over-budget include BC Hydro’s system upgrade and JUSTIN, a criminal case management database for police investigations, court documents and victims or witnesses of crime.

“The immense waste and mismanagement of the Christy Clark government comes down to wasted money on companies like IBM for faulty systems that should have gone to front-line services for kids in care, students and patients,” Ralston said.

Bellringer’s review found that problems with IT systems are found in all government and private sector organizations. World-wide, one out of five IT projects fails, and the majority have significant problems not anticipated at the outset.

 

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