Computerworld, a prominent information technology publication, has taken notice of the debacle that is Orange County’s computer network boondoggle with a story that ran last week. The headline references that 6,000 pages of specifications for the project and the dramatic cost increases and how the county is back to square one.
It’s an embarrassment.
I’ve had several technology journalists I work with regularly asking me what I know about this. Since the Board of Supervisors doesn’t have a single technologist on the dias and I’m not sure about the credentials of the county’s technology team. there isn’t a lot to add except to say people making decisions about technology don’t seem to know what they are doing. What’s clear is the Supervisors went the outsourcing route in an attempt to reduce costs only to discover that sometimes, it doesn’t.
From the story:
A modernization of Orange County, Calif.’s tax collection system that was supposed to take three years and cost less than $8 million was on track to cost twice that amount and take twice as long when officials pulled the plug.
Instead of seeing the project through to completion, Orange County abandoned the effort, declared the software “fatally flawed” and in April filed a lawsuit against the contractor.
The two sides — the county and the contractors, Tata Consultancy Services and its U.S.-based subsidiary — are now attempting reach a mediated agreement, according to the most recent federal court filing late last month.
Tata was the winning bidder for the job, offering to do it for just over $8 million. As part of the contract, TCS proposed that all work on the tax project “be performed onsite at the county offices in Orange County.” The county, in its legal filings, states that it believes that many of the people that TCS assigned to the project “worked and lived in India” — a logistical complication that contributed to delays and communication problems.
The lawsuit outlines many complaints, and says that TCS had claimed a 96% success rate in completing projects on time and on budget. The tax system project’s cost was rising above $16 million when the county pulled the plug.
The county, in its lawsuit, says it will have to start over from scratch.
Six thousands pages of specifications strikes me as hilarious (I also have friends at Tata I chat with regularly, but not about this install). A smart IT consultant could probably whittle all the requirements down to a manageable amount of documents. What’s important to note is departments need to get their technology requirements in early so the vendor selected gives an accurate bid. There’s speculation that there were multiple change orders directed to the county’s consultant that caused the cost of the project to skyrocket.
It is in this light that the Board of Supervisors should consider the proposal from their IT managers to contract out all of the County’s technology infrastructure and support to outside contractors. The Tata contract is the Canary, the looming $134 million proposed contract with Xerox State and Local Solutions is the coal mine disaster the canary warned us about. The Board of Supervisors was warned by rank and file workers that the contract was way behind, grossly mismanaged, and over budget, They didn’t listen. The same situation exists with the Xerox deal. The question remaining is whether the Board will listen, or repeat the same history, pocket the campaign cash, and approve a flawed deal that will cost the taxpayers more, with no way back.