Our tax dollars at work? We deserve better

The project is five years late, incomplete, riddled with deficiencies, and much of the technology may already be out dated."

The project is five years late, incomplete, riddled with deficiencies, and much of the technology may already be out dated.”

It is thus that the Panorama Public Health System was described recently by British Columbia’s auditor general, Carol Bellringer.

Panorama is an IT system bought and paid for by the provincial government (to the tune of at least $115 million) after the SARS outbreak in early 2003. It was supposed to “improve management of communicable disease outbreaks and immunization programs across the country.” It’s a laudable goal and we can see that it is important to be able to properly track disease outbreaks and who has been immunized and who hasn’t.

Other provinces, including Ontario and Quebec did also implement the same system.

But just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean anyone got a good deal.

“Panorama has been impacted by defects from the start,” Bellringer reported. “It is inefficient to use, burdensome to public health staff, and requires ongoing financial support.”

Apparently we continue to spend about $14 million a year on this turkey.

But anybody can get a bad deal, right? Software is buggy and they don’t necessarily get it right the first time.

In this case, however, when things started to go wrong, problems were compounded, leaving taxpayers worse off than ever.

“Of particular concern, is not only a failure to control costs, but decisions that unnecessarily increased costs,” said Bellringer. “When IBM could not deliver on the original contract terms, we saw no evidence that the ministry considered other options such as contract termination or alternate systems.

Instead, the Ministry of Health renegotiated with IBM in a way that transferred financial risk from IBM to taxpayers.”

That last is enough to make the blood boil.

To its credit, the Ministry of Health has acknowledged some of the issues in the auditor’s report and says it is taking steps to make corrections.

But it does argue that Panorama is better than what they used to have, as if that is some kind of high praise.

It reminds us forcefully of the expensive, obsolete nightmare that was the BCeSIS system that our schools were forced to adopt. It cost the district $1 million, never worked right, then was discontinued.

We’re concerned that a big $14 million a year is still going to try to make Panorama work well for us.

Given the history of the project, that’s not comforting.

But we did have to love this bit of bureaucratic bafflegab at its best from the Ministry of Health press release: “We also recognize the need for a collaborative leadership approach for large IT projects.”

Hopefully they’ll actually come up with something more meaningful in terms of action.