Ontario government botches rollout of welfare technology

Posted on October 25, 2015 in Social Security Delivery System

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Social assistance system still not working properly eleven months after roll-out
Oct 25 2015.   Editorial

Twice in the 21st century the Ontario government has put welfare recipients through the wringer by botching the implementation of a high-tech caseload management system. Both times, it ran up a multi-million-dollar bill fixing the mess.

Did the Ministry of Community and Social Services learn nothing from the first fiasco? Does Helena Jaczek, the apparently imperturbable minister responsible for social assistance, think it is acceptable to spend $50 million of taxpayers’ money to iron out the glitches in a $242-million computer program? Is she concerned that her government is disrupting the lives of people struggling to live on the $656 a month it provides? There is no sign of it.

“Ontarians will ultimately be able to realize the tremendous value of SAMS (the province’s latest custom-designed social assistance management system) in helping to deliver improve clients services,” Jaczek said as she released her department’s “integrated transition plan” last week. She assured the Star’s Donovan Vincent the system is now “stable.”

But it was stable last November when the government rolled out its new computer program. Its last computer system, introduced in 2002, was finally free of bugs. Its employees could use it competently. Now they’re struggling to get back to that point.

Jaczek and her officials had a case study of what not to do. They had itemized records of the $460 million the ministry spent getting Accenture’s custom-build computer program (Service Delivery Model Technology) to perform dependably. Some had personal memories of the year-long nightmare.

Yet they were-ill prepared again. Ministry officials point out that the cost of SAMS, designed by IBM, has not ballooned to the same extent. That is true, but it is a pitiful yardstick. And the final tally isn’t in. Jaczek’s newly released transition plan won’t be completed until March. Neither her lack of urgency nor her ministry’s track record inspires confidence.

It is impossible for outsiders to diagnose what went wrong and why. But the evidence Ontarians do have – a pricetag that has already swelled by 20 per cent; the fact that department has fumbled the implementation of programs by two different suppliers; reports from local caseworkers that the system still has serious deficiencies – suggest the changeover was poorly planned and executed. So does a comparison with other institutions that use complex online management systems to deliver client services: banks, multi-national corporations, other public agencies. They don’t experience 11 months of upheaval when they install new software.

The 566,800 Ontarians who depend on social assistance are the province’s most vulnerable residents. More than half have disabilities. It is bad enough that the government doesn’t provide enough financial support to meet their basic needs; to subject them to needless bureaucratic misery is just heartless.

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