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Biggest IT Disaster Ever?

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the I-can-top-that-one dept.

405

lizzyben writes, "Baseline has a major story about a major IT disaster in the UK: 'In 2002, the English government embarked on a $12 billion effort to transform its health-care system with information technology. But the country's oversight agency now puts that figure at $24 billion, and two Members of Parliament say the project is "sleepwalking toward disaster"... In scale, the project... (NPfIT) is overwhelming. Initiated in 2002, the NPfIT is a 10-year project to build new computer systems that would connect more than 100,000 doctors, 380,000 nurses and 50,000 other health-care professionals; allow for the electronic storage and retrieval of patient medical records; permit patients to set up appointments via their computers; and let doctors electronically transmit prescriptions to local pharmacies.'" An Infoworld article from earlier this year sketches some of the all-time greatest IT meltdowns.

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Honorable Mention (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841230)

Well, I recall the FBI's Virtual Case File [wikipedia.org] system that took 2-3 years to develop and costed $170 million to produce [cnn.com] an absolute failure. In the end, they found a "suitable commercial replacement." Probably at a fraction of the price.

So, $170 million/3 years = $55 million/year while the article seems to imply an oversight of one billion per year on the NPfIT [wikipedia.org] which is outrageous. I'm confused how one would even spend that much money on an IT project for a country the size of England--were they laying expensive new shiny fibre wire devoted for medical records only to every facility?

Re:Honorable Mention (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841280)

Well, I recall the FBI's Virtual Case File...

For those who RTFA, it's linked in the blurb.

Re:Honorable Mention (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841382)

It's a boondoggle. America has the "Bridge to Nowhere" and they have the "Fiber Optic Health Care".

Re:Honorable Mention (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841812)

Not one to be outdone, the USA now has the Harry Reid [kansascity.com] bridge.

Far far bigger - IT sourcing bug killed a country. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841454)

The biggest one was deliberate - and took down an entire country.
The biggest IT disaster every was due to choosing the wrong vendor for
sourcing software, in which
deliberate bugs were planted [fcw.com]


"Why not help the Soviets with their shopping? Now that we know what they want, we can help them get it." There would be just one catch: The CIA would add "extra ingredients" to the software and hardware on the KGB's shopping list.
...
computer chips were designed to pass quality-acceptance tests before entry into Soviet service. Only later would they sporadically fail, frazzling the nerves of harried users. Pseudosoftware disrupted factory output.


Resulting in major collapses of Soviet infrastucture.


Some may argue it's not an IT disaster -- but the root of the problem was that people sourced buggy software from closed source vendors and couldn't get their bugs fixed. -- The same thing happens all the time on a smaller scale when people buy Windows.

Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841234)

Those three words together are the new definition of the word "duh."

When doesn't government go overbudget? Government is the combination of bureacracy, inefficiency, monopoly use of force and the free use of other people's money. Government agencies can never do anything under budget because if they do, they'll see their budgets cut. Each department of an agency is required to work just a little beyond budget since that is how government grows: "we only need a little more money/staff/time." Since each department does this, each agency of departments has bigger and bigger needs leading to more and more inefficiencies.

When a competitive free market group of companies goes after work, they have to balance their profit versus their ability versus the good use of their time. If you bid a job and win it, there's no going back and asking for more. For big projects that my companies do, we get bonding insurance for double the bid package -- this protects our customers from our failures. Government, on the other hand, doesn't need bonding insurance: they just go and get more money in the form of various user fees, taxes, tariffs and inflationary fiat currency.

We should not be surprised here, either, since it is a health-care market. In the U.S., health care costs have skyrocketed since government has destroyed the free market of health-care provisions. The law provides write-offs for businesses that offer health insurance, but individuals don't get that write-off, so health insurance is pushed onto the company which incurs additional overhead. We also see people using insurance for basic healthcare costs, which means that insurance companies spend money on non-emergency situations, so the cost goes up. Combine that with the AMA's fraudulent restrictions on the number of graduating doctoral students and you see a limited supply of available doctors (cost goes up when supply goes down), and then throw in the bureacracy of Medicare and the price skyrockets. England is worse, since they are (I believe) a cover-all insurance scheme.

Imagine if we all went to dinner and had to pay our own meals. We'd all get what we could afford -- burgers for some, steaks for others, soup for the few. Now imagine if we decided to split the bill equally. At first, we'd still buy what we used to, but some people would realize they could now afford steaks for just a little more cash out of pocket. When other people subsidize your irresponsibility, you become irresponsible. Eventually, everyone's buying steaks -- and all our costs go up. In government-run healthcare, everyone orders steaks, but the added bureacracy means the costs are well over the average steak -- and everyone expects to pay for soup.

The toss in IT run by government, and you have a history and a future of ineptitude, inefficiency, lack of competition to drive down costs, and the rest.

I'm not even sure what the point is of this IT upgrade. What exactly do they need this system for? Doctors work fine with paper charts and files -- this is a ridiculous amount of money -- what is the benefit and how do the costs make the benefit still beneficial?

As I said before... duh.

Sidenote: One of my lady's best friends runs a huge network for a hospital chain that is in the process of combining with another hospital. She's told me repeatedly that the biggest costs for her MIS department is integrating all the bureacratic changes that the government requires -- paperwork, forms, etc. While she's a big-government Republican (the new style), she is blown away that 80% of her staff deals with those headaches, which are constantly changing and always need more people to do the job. It disgusts me.

Then toss in IT run by government, ... (1)

oldwarrior (463580) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841530)

worst thing is, only government and academic projects are ideally suited for very-large-scale (not commodity products like apache) open source-efforts, since for-profit businesses cannot afford a large staff of developers working without a chance of recovering the resource costs. So the very worst engines of ineptitude may well end up controlling the open-source developer careers of many.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (4, Insightful)

HeavenlyBankAcct (1024233) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841542)

Those "three words" together are four words.

And excellent steak analogy, but you forgot to include the circumstances that prompt the need for a government managed health care system in the first place -- what happens when the restaurants sell so many burgers and so few steaks that they need to manipulate their pricing structure until those burgers become the price of steaks? Or when they decide to just stop serving burgers entirely and choose instead to offer a 'name brand equivalent' like maybe some ground buffalo, which tastes just the same, but costs a whole lot more? And what happens to the individuals who desperately NEED those steaks but can only afford a small side salad? There's a big difference between 'subsidizing irresponsibility' and sharing costs to help treat people with terminal and degenerative diseases who are incapable of generating a full-time income.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are people who will apply the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality to those suffering from Muscular Dystrophy, ALS, Leukemia and all of those others afflictions that obviously afflict far more than just the 'lazy' and 'irresponsible'. Is this compassionate conservatism in action?

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (2, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841700)


It never ceases to amaze me that there are people who will apply the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality to those suffering from Muscular Dystrophy, ALS, Leukemia and all of those others afflictions that obviously afflict far more than just the 'lazy' and 'irresponsible'. Is this compassionate conservatism in action?


I don't use an AMA Doctor in the States, I use an AAPS Doctor. He doesn't accept insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or any third party payment, and neither does anyone in his clinics. They're all older doctors. He still makes housecalls. He charges me about $30 a visit for a basic checkup, and because he runs on a cash basis, he sees me for as long as I need him, and I just pay for the time. I'm in and out in 15-30 minutes. His housecalls are about $30 more. I believe he said that when he was still AMA-affiliated, his overall collections were about 40%, now he collects over 100% of his bills at the point of service (the overage is a tip, which I always give him for good service). I am significantly healthier (blood pressure down, cholesterol down, weight way down) and so is my lady (asthma gone) because of his dietary advice over medicine.

My lady's brother had MS and died in a fire because of it. This same doctor's clinic treated him at home for no additional charge, and when he lost his job, they continued to care for him at no cost at their office (we drove him there). The doctors repeatedly tell me that most health care is cheap. I have insurance for emergencies only (with a $10,000 deductible now) and my insurance is cheap even though I am a smoker and have a pre-existing condition of kidney stones -- in fact, my lady and I pay less as a household for a year than most people do in a 6-9 months with their overriding policies.

The poor and sick have always had religious hospitals to help -- as well as hospitals sponsored by donations. Today, we pay 50%+ of our gross income to government, so few of us can support religious and charitably hospitals, although my family still gives the difference between our old insurance and our new one to a local charitable hospital in Chicago that runs 100% on donations and user fees.

Don't spin the "what about the poor?" stuff since it is the poor that are hurt by government health care. Try visiting any emergency room in Lake County, Illinois and see how long it takes to get service.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (4, Informative)

HeavenlyBankAcct (1024233) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841976)

My lady's brother had MS and died in a fire because of it. This same doctor's clinic treated him at home for no additional charge, and when he lost his job, they continued to care for him at no cost at their office (we drove him there). The doctors repeatedly tell me that most health care is cheap. I have insurance for emergencies only (with a $10,000 deductible now) and my insurance is cheap even though I am a smoker and have a pre-existing condition of kidney stones -- in fact, my lady and I pay less as a household for a year than most people do in a 6-9 months with their overriding policies.

Interesting that you should bring up MS, since my frame of reference is with the same disease.

My mother is a single woman who was diagnosed with MS when I was around eight years old. Her disease is a progressive one, and as such, she gradually lost the ability to operate for periods long enough to sustain a full-time income. Since she was unemployed (and married) at the time of her diagnosis, she was not covered by any private insurance fund, and thus, after her divorce, she fell into the questionable hands of Medicare.

Since that time, I've witnessed our family tossed into bankruptcy proceedings to cover hospital bills that Medicare claimed were out-of-scope. I've witnessed months and years where she was unable to pay for her medication and fell into serious regression. Most recently, I've witnessed her taking part in a completely bogus marriage to a man she barely knew simply so she could be added to his military insurance plan. These are the sort of things that the poor in our country deal with when they have chronic or terminal diseases.

Your friend and you are very lucky to find the sort of treatment that he did, but that's certainly not a commonality, or even a rarity. I would say that's a goddamn miracle -- and I certainly would not assume that because you were accepted for insurance with kidney stones that somebody with a terminal disease would have an easy of a time as you. I've been gainfully employed for years and have been frantically searching for a 'family plan' that would also covered my disabled mother and have been greeted routinely with incredulity and flat-out "no, we don't do that"s.

So, yes, I think I can justifiably use the "what about the poor" argument since that's the reality I know. I'm not sure how the system appears to those who don't actually need it -- I just know the dismal reality of attempting to get health care without money in this country. Regardless of what the rhetoric states -- it's not easy, or pleasant, and most of the time, it's impossible. I thank the powers that be daily that I'm now in a situation where I can provide financial support to my loved ones instead of expecting them to rely on a broken system to keep them intact.

$10,000 deductible? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841990)

And what if you get cancer, then what? Chemo drugs will drain that 10 grand in an instant - trust me I know. You can be as healthy as an ox and still have a health crisis bite you in the ass. I was prepared for it, sounds like you are not.

Re:$10,000 deductible? (1)

olyar (591892) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842188)

And what if you get cancer, then what? Chemo drugs will drain that 10 grand in an instant - trust me I know.
One side effect of a free market is that things get cheaper. Part of the reason those drugs cost $10k is that insurance companies are paying that much for them. If it was effected more by supply and demand, we would probably get a cheaper alternative.

I'm not trying to invalidate your point - its a good one. I'm just saying, that the market has a way of working through that sort of thing eventually. A lot of suffering can happen during that process though, and when its related to people's health, we have to take that very seriously.

Re:$10,000 deductible? (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842304)

My business partner's wife died of cancer last week (24 years old). Her chemo was $40,000+ a month for over a year, I believe.

My insurance plan covers emergency room visits, but also medical emergencies such as chemotherapy and surgery. It does not cover doctor's visits for headaches or colds or allergies or the like (actually, it does but the deductible makes it stupid to use insurance).

I am thrifty with my life (small home, old cars, cook at home more than we eat out), so I can save a great portion of my money for emergencies -- and my money is saved in bullion (gold and silver) so I don't have to worry about the declination/depreciation of the dollar much. I wish I could find a $25,000 deductible plan but there are none out there that I know of. I'd probably even go with a $50,000 deductible in a few years. At $10,000, I know I have the deductible safely away, and if an emergency strikes my household, we're covered for the big stuff. I can't recall what our lifetime benefit is, but I believe it is $4 million or $5 million last we updated our policy.

The biggest problem I see is that the Medical Savings Account provision in the tax law is a "use it or lose it" policy. I'd happily buy an MSA if I could save my deductible portion that way (or one of my deductible portions).

Many of my friends and family use insurance for 100% of their medical needs, including medication. I personally don't, and we rarely take medications (diet and exercise can replace many standard medications, including what my lady used to take for asthma and bipolar, both of which she has been off for 7 years due to better diet and much better exercise).

The industry is a fraud, and I'm glad I've found my way out of it while still insuring against REAL disaster.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

jdavidb (449077) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842280)

My lady's brother had MS and died in a fire because of it.

Was this very recently? It seems like not long ago you were writing about him and recent events at a hospital.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841850)

It never ceases to amaze me that there are people who will apply the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality to those suffering from Muscular Dystrophy, ALS, Leukemia and all of those others afflictions that obviously afflict far more than just the 'lazy' and 'irresponsible'.
 
At some point Darwinism needs to work.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (4, Insightful)

Ford Prefect (8777) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841874)

Is this compassionate conservatism in action?

You forget. The compassion in compassionate conservatism is the lovely warm feeling one gets in one's heart when scattering breadcrumbs at Christmas to those poor, adorable, starving orphans.

Charity will help out the most needy, remember?

Fuck anyone who's suffering from an unfashionable or distasteful illness; they only brought it upon themselves. The good old mom-and-pop doctor will solve everything else - that's what capitalism is for!

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

Ford Prefect (8777) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841548)

When a competitive free market group of companies goes after work, they have to balance their profit versus their ability versus the good use of their time.

This NHS case is one of the government using the free market, and of the free market bidding low and then screwing the government for every penny it has.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841616)

If it had been a company soliciting the bid, they'd have metaphorically slit the contract's throat when it became clear that it was going to not only fail, but fail spectacularly. The government could have done the same as well, but the government doesn't care about their bottom line.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

kwiqsilver (585008) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841554)

I'm not even sure what the point is of this IT upgrade. What exactly do they need this system for? Doctors work fine with paper charts and files -- this is a ridiculous amount of money -- what is the benefit and how do the costs make the benefit still beneficial?

You must be some sort of freedom loving capitalist if you can't see the benefit here:
$24B in spending directed towards growing a government bureaucracy, and lucrative contracts for politically connected companies (does Halliburton have a UK division?).
People pay more in taxes to the health care system, so they have less money to pay for private health care, so they become more reliant on the government, which makes them less healthy (since government health care is horribly ineffective), which makes them even more reliant on the government, which means the government has to grow even more to 'serve' their health care needs. It's a win-win situation...except for the patients/taxpayers, but when was the last time anybody worried about them?

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

bateleur (814657) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842102)

You aren't American by any chance?

The government healthcare system here in the UK is actually good, particularly if you happen to live in the South East. The idea of "less money for private health care" is pure comedy. Why would I want private healthcare?

This IT screw up is unfortunately typical, but that's actually because the government's contracting out of IT functions is consistently terrible. A new system actually is badly needed... they just had no idea how to go about buying one.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

gt_mattex (1016103) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841560)

Government. Health Care. Disaster
Those three words...

Isn't that four words?

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

saudadelinux (574392) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841572)

I'm not so sure private enterprise is the panacea you seem to believe it to be [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841674)

In this case though, I think that they are [wikipedia.org] . In other words, they've already done the job very sucessfully, why reinvent the wheel? I'm usually as against corporations and corporatism as you are, but that's no reason to throw out their work when it does work.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841864)

I applaud you for your support of that free market provision in WebMD, MH. We don't see eye to eye very often, but in this case, I'm happy we can.

Enron was never a free markat fiasco -- it was a government disaster. Enron was repeatedly given loopholes in the law to use (which were closed AFTER the fact). The more you read about Enron [mises.org] and the other companies that ripped off the investors, the more you see that the State was the biggest predator in the situation. A free market in energy works, except when it is a "free market" as defined by government -- never really free, never really deregulated, and never really opened to competition. Look at government-set-monopoly broadband providers versus dial-up ISPs in terms of price over their history. Look at government-set-monopoly insurance versus free market insurance prices over their history (for example: flood insurance). We can see time and again that any time the State espouses "free market!!!" it is never free, never unregulated, never unfunded. Cronyism, paternalism, preferentialism = uncompetitive.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841670)

"big-government Republican" - I think you mean to say "Democrat" - there's no such thing as a big-government Republican.

If a Republican claims to support big-government, he/she is not a Republican at all, just a very confused person.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

zxnos (813588) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841910)

1. government
2. ???
3. disaster

sounds about right...

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (4, Insightful)

El Torico (732160) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841918)

I have what I call the "oh, crap" words and phrases list. If I see more than two of those words in a project file, I know that the project will be a huge steaming pile.

The article has no less than eleven of those warning signs.

transform
Accenture
Gartner
government
Microsoft
management consultant
Computer Sciences Corp.
in the world
comprehensive
leading-edge

I am not at all surprised that this is a gargantuan boondoggle.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (2, Interesting)

supersnail (106701) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841942)

England is probably the best place in the world to have a heart attack,
should you choose to have one.

If you keel over in London you should get a paramedic equiped
with defibrilator within 10 minutes, quite often an actual doctor
will be traveling with the paramedics. If its serious and traffic is bad you
get a chopper to the hospital where serious case are treated immediatly.

You can get to the operating table within an hour.

And all this without a single check for medical insurance or endless
calls to your HMO to get the treatemnt approved.

And its extaordinarily cost effective. The UK spends less per
head on medical expenses than any other G8 economy. %50 less than
the US for eqivalent service.

The major problem with the NHS is because people are treated according
to clinical priority (rather than money or quality of insurance) if you
have an ingrowing toe nail there is always someone worse off than you
who gets treated first.

Gotta be better than the mess in the USA!

P.S. If you are going to hospital I would recommend Denmark.
absolutely the best medical care money cant buy. Its free.

 

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

Hijacked Public (999535) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842292)

What is the mess in the USA? My brother's kid drove his ATV into the side of a barn and twisted himself all up. Probably 20 minutes after I called 911 a helicopter showed up and whisked him away, and this was way out in the boonies.

I don't recall any questions about insurance until long after we drove to the hospital ourselves. I realize that there are some serious problems but I fail to see the difference between the situation here in Indiana, USA and the one you describe in London, England.

Also, Denmark's health care is not free, you have just been hoodwinked into believing that it is because one day a government tax collector got the idea that it would be much smoother to take everyone's money before they ever saw it as opposed to sending people out with rifles to pry it from their hands, face to face.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

rasilon (18267) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841960)

But yet for all the arguments above, the NHS still delivers a more efficient and cost-effective service than the private sector...

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (4, Insightful)

shawn(at)fsu (447153) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841962)

I'm sorry but did you even take time to read the article? I ask because you make statements about saying stuff like this: When a competitive free market group of companies goes after work, they have to balance their profit versus their ability versus the good use of their time. If you bid a job and win it, there's no going back and asking for more. But that's exactly what the article talks about. Accenture was the prime, or at least had the majority of the contract and they screwed up spent a lot of the governments money and quit .

Then you talk about universal health care? What does that have to do with TFA? If I had to guess I would just say you read the title and picked out some of your favorite arguments that had nothing to do with TFA and strung them together to get a +5 insightful. Congradulations you know how to play to the mindless sheep.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (5, Interesting)

misleb (129952) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841980)

Imagine if we all went to dinner and had to pay our own meals. We'd all get what we could afford -- burgers for some, steaks for others, soup for the few. Now imagine if we decided to split the bill equally. At first, we'd still buy what we used to, but some people would realize they could now afford steaks for just a little more cash out of pocket. When other people subsidize your irresponsibility, you become irresponsible. Eventually, everyone's buying steaks -- and all our costs go up. In government-run healthcare, everyone orders steaks, but the added bureacracy means the costs are well over the average steak -- and everyone expects to pay for soup.


So what you are saying is that poverty must exist in order for you to maintain your high standard of living.

-matthew

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (4, Interesting)

bockelboy (824282) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842174)

(Side note: The US is the only industrialized country without national healthcare, spends twice as much per patient in healthcare, and yet is not a world leader in healthcare - it often ranks last among industrialized nations in certain categories. It seems that the statistical odds are at least against private healthcare right now).

I would normally agree with you (big government bad, free market good), but you're forgetting one small thing: The Veteran's Administration.

Here was a crappy, failing hospital system run by the US government that has completely transformed itself in the last couple of years. It has successfully deployed a completely electronic patient bookkeeping system (a nurse friend has told me that most of the (privately owned) hospital she works at runs off 3x5 notecards). The administrative overhead is comparable to private hospitals. It is able to negotiate much deeper drug discounts than Medicare and other private hospitals. It works closely with medical schools so its personnel costs are much lower, yet it has experts in many veterans-related fields (things like PTSD, making fake limbs, etc). It rates as one of the top hospitals in quantitative healthcare surveys (which measure things like, "For patients with X, how many of the standard operating procedures Y are usually followed").

In fact, it's done its job so well that - while the costs of private healthcare have *far* outpaced inflation the last couple of years - its budget has been increased at a *slower* rate than inflation.

Of course, like any other large chain of hospitals, there are surgery mistakes and lawsuits. The mistakes are much lower than the national average but, because it's run by the government, are much higher profile when they do happen.

The VA is a good case study of how the government could do healthcare much better than private industry. Its success should be analyzed, studied, and possibly replicated at a much larger scale.

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

kabocox (199019) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842244)

I'm not even sure what the point is of this IT upgrade. What exactly do they need this system for? Doctors work fine with paper charts and files -- this is a ridiculous amount of money -- what is the benefit and how do the costs make the benefit still beneficial?

As I said before... duh.

Sidenote: One of my lady's best friends runs a huge network for a hospital chain that is in the process of combining with another hospital. She's told me repeatedly that the biggest costs for her MIS department is integrating all the bureacratic changes that the government requires -- paperwork, forms, etc. While she's a big-government Republican (the new style), she is blown away that 80% of her staff deals with those headaches, which are constantly changing and always need more people to do the job. It disgusts me.


You answered your own question there. If the IT solution worked, then most of your friend's staff wouldn't have paper work problems. I think the idea behind a massive industry wide IT solution could be a good thing. Will it be done right and actually work? I won't hold my breath. Ideally, you could log on and have your entire medical history there. Any doctor or nurse that was assigned to take care of you, would "instantly" have all your case history at hand. Ideally, it would mean any patient could go to any doctor without worry that the doctor's staff wouldn't have any information about you. Ideally, the patient wouldn't even have to fill out a form at check in. They'd just put their medical id number and either signoff or log in and that's it. All the insurance and governmental paper work associated with each patient ought to be attached and have medical staff go through and verify it. The goal is to speed up the filling out of paper and making it easier for different organizations to review not to eliminate paper work. I would think that they'd have digital sigs for each medical person that ever came into contact with the patient and several insurance or government people would easily review paper work as well. That's the plan... I doubt it'll even met my imagination though. ;)

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

consonant (896763) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842252)

Those three words together are the new definition of the word "duh."
Nitpick: Er, those are four words...

Re:Keywords: Government. Health Care. Disaster (1)

naked_biker (985687) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842298)

"When a competitive free market group of companies goes after work, they have to balance their profit versus their ability versus the good use of their time. If you bid a job and win it, there's no going back and asking for more."

Most of these projects are bid and won within a competitive environment and they are worked on by commercial entities doing firm-fixed-price bids with a broad statement of objectives (e.g vendor describes proposed solution, government doesn't dictate the solution.) Obviously this doesn't mitigate the possibility of failure. Many, many IT projects fail (commercial or government run). In fact many analyst, such as the Standish Group, make a nice living on reporting all the IT project failures that occur each year.

I think the real reason you see government at the top of the list is because only governments have the need to take on massive IT projects and these projects often have a very massive and diverse stakeholder base. Don't think that bureaucracy, inefficiency, and monopolies are the sole domain of governments, there's plenty of that in private sector too.

I don't think it tops longhorn. (0)

jcr (53032) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841242)

At $12 billion, I think it still falls short of MS's disaster of the last six years.
-jcr

Windows troll? (2, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841544)

Windows troll?
Obvious. Droll.
Redmond tops neither
The IRS hole
Or a clean and sparkling soul.
Burma Shave

Re:I don't think it tops longhorn. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841568)

Vista isn't a failure. It meets the criteria for maintaining a monopoly admirably. Usable, pretty, backwards compatable, and a huge snarly mess of bloat so that noone can replace it.

Re:I don't think it tops longhorn. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841594)

maybe next the Air Traffic systems? (4, Informative)

yagu (721525) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841244)

The article:

The inspiration to digitize this far-flung bureaucracy first surfaced in late 2001, when Microsoft's Bill Gates paid a visit to British Prime Minister Tony Blair at No. 10 Downing St. The subject of the meeting, as reported by The Guardian, was what could be done to improve the National Health Service. At the time, much of the service was paper-based and severely lagging in its use of technology. A long-term review of NHS funding that was issued just before the Blair-Gates meeting had concluded: "The U.K. health service has a poor record on the use of information and communications technology--the result of many years of serious under-investment."

It's unfortunate but common to look at "under-investment" as root cause. Britain's problem could have been vastly improved even as a paper system by just getting their arms around communication, procedures, standards, etc. (I'm not talking about IT standards here, they're about as worthless as the electrons they spin on.) And then to be tantalized by Gates himself that technology (probably especially Microsoft Windows, sigh) would solve the problem.

I've seen amazing organization and communication among systems with simple low speed modem and dialup connectivity. It's not the technology, it's the grasp of the subject matter and how to organize it. Britain's example looks to be one of classic "good money after bad".

Get a bunch of people in a room who know what they need (sounds like they didn't) and put them together with a bunch of people who know how to do it (sounds like they didn't). It really is that simple, and it's not as hard as they made it.

The evidence?:

The process for selecting vendors began in the late fall of 2002. It was centralized and standardized, and was conducted, Brennan and others say, in great secrecy. To avoid negative publicity, NHS insisted that contractors not reveal any details about contracts, a May 2005 story in ComputerWeekly noted. As a byproduct of these hush-hush negotiations, front-line clinicians, except at the most senior levels, were largely excluded from the selection and early planning process, according to Brennan.

Though in the next paragraph the "CfH" denies that (why is it always organizations "denying" something, come on someone, step up and take accountability), I'm guessing the accusation is accurate.

When projects like this get going and the emphasis should be on subject matter experts (SME), the projects usually get expendable high-level highly paid deadweight -- I've seen it too many times. One project I was on we got assigned two SME's, one was so oblivious to the statement of the problem we even wondered if he (or she) had ever worked in the industry.

Other evidence the project was ill-conceived and guaranteed a disaster?: from the article:

[from the baseline goals] Reduce the time it takes to send medical images, such as X-rays, from about four minutes to less than one minute.

I'm guessing $24B spent to get an X-ray in one minute instead of four begins to be diminished returns.

Also:

Gates is viewed as the godfather of the NPfIT because he reportedly sold Tony Blair on the benefits of bringing the digital revolution into every doctor's office and hospital in Great Britain. In the process, the British government signed an Enterprise Subscription Agreement (ESA) with Microsoft for 900,000 desktops for Office Professional Enterprise Edition 2003 and various client access licenses. Microsoft also is developing a common user interface for CfH. Gates received an honorary knighthood in 2005.

This just reeks of cronyism and idiocy. If for no other reason, I'd vote Blair out of office for this -- it's insane. Bill probably walked away from this pretty happy though. Aside from the questionable broad brush technology choice, "Microsoft is developing a common user interface..." is a huge red flag. All anyone would have had to do to squash that decision is to look at the mish mash and hodge podge that is the collective suite of Microsoft products and their "common user interfaces".

The end result was and always will be predictable... a bloated unusable way over budget system.

Re:maybe next the Air Traffic systems? (1)

kraut (2788) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841684)

> This just reeks of cronyism and idiocy. If for no other reason, I'd vote Blair out of office for this -- it's insane
We tried. Two thirds of the popular vote were against him at the last election.

Which explains why he's still in office, think he has a mandate, and is exporting "democracy" to the middle east.

Re:maybe next the Air Traffic systems? (4, Insightful)

curunir (98273) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841860)

When projects like this get going and the emphasis should be on subject matter experts (SME), the projects usually get expendable high-level highly paid deadweight -- I've seen it too many times.
I think you've hit the nail on the head with this statement. The government made a poor decision on who should run the project and he, in turn, made quite possibly the most bone-headed decisions he could possibly make.

From the article:
Granger commissioned the management consulting company McKinsey to do a study ...[that]... concluded ... that no single existing vendor was big enough to act as prime contractor on the countrywide, multibillion-dollar initiative the NHS was proposing....The result: He divided England into five regions--London; Eastern; Northeast; Northwest with West Midlands; and Southern--each with a population of about 10 million.
That last sentence made my jaw drop. How someone in his position could so blatantly avoid consulting anyone with any technical acumen is beyond me. Yes, it's possible, that no single vendor was capable of creating such a system alone. But the vast majority of a project like this is about creating a single process for every use case that the system is designed to handle. As such, the project shouldn't ever be broken down into groupings like number of patients in the system. Computers are great at handling really large numbers when the software is designed up-front to scale to really large numbers. The system should have been broken down into separate processes for which individual vendors would handle that single process (or grouping of processes) for everyone in the country.

The X-Ray example is a perfect one. Why would anyone in their right mind have 5 separate vendors all attempt to implement a solution for the problem that was only applied to the region they managed? At best, one region would end up with a solution that was better than every other region. However a competant management decision would have been to look for a vendor that could handle *only* the process of integrating the country's X-ray facilities with the country's high-speed data network. Another vendor would be responsible for supplying and maintaing that network. Still another vendor would be responsible for maintaining the huge data center (or centers) where information was housed. Just off the top of my head, GE could be responsible for the X-Ray integration (I know they have the necessary expertise), BT could handle high-speed network (among others, but why use foreign expertise when a UK company could handle it). And there are any number of competant vendors that could handle a high-availability server environment with a massive database.

Basically, had they had anyone with have an ounce of technical acumen, they would have devided the project up along functional boundaries of the application rather than regional boundaries of the country. That way, even if some of the projects went horribly over-budget, at least some of the project would be useful. Now, because of the inept management decisions, the whole thing is a train wreck.

How British... (3, Insightful)

byolinux (535260) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841284)

Things here in the UK always seem to be thought of as failing or disaster before they're completed. I'm sure we hate success as a nation. We also have a huge obsession with celebrity and magazines that publish how fat celebrities are, or how their lives are in a mess always do very well.

I say wait until the project's finished before kicking it to the ground.

Re:How British... (4, Insightful)

kraut (2788) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841510)

> Things here in the UK always seem to be thought of as failing or disaster before they're completed.

> I say wait until the project's finished before kicking it to the ground.

No, I think after it's gone 100% over budget and wasted $12 billion (that's 6-8 billon sterling) of taxpayer's money seems a perfectly good time.

Why didn't they just buy (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841286)

A country-wide site license for Web MD? That's what all of my local hospitals and clinics use- and it already provides a number of ways for communicating perscriptions to the chemists (from printouts to faxes to e-mail).

Re:Why didn't they just buy (2, Insightful)

mendaliv (898932) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841376)

Because that would be way too easy.

Either way, I'm not sure how things work in the UK but in the US, if WebMD were to suddenly gain the US Government as a customer, the government would require that WebMD suddenly adapt to a bunch of contractor regulations that they probably aren't following at the moment.

Plus, politicians could put one of two things on their campaign fliers: "...and strongly worked to get our great nation a site license for WebMD" or "...and strongly worked to build the national physicians communication network" or some such.

Re:Why didn't they just buy (1)

supersnail (106701) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842290)

The problem is it won't scale to the worlds largest health
organisation. The NHS is the primary care organisation for
80% of the UK population (and quite a few visting South Americans and
Easten Europeans!) and the primary care organisation for 99%
of the population who are liable to get ill (Private medical
insurance in the UK being geared up to middle class , less than
middle aged people with no medical history).

IT in the NHS was always underfunded (probably rightly so-
upgrade a couple of thousand PCs or get a new brain scanner
whats a doctor to choose!). The problem started when the
unemploeyed PR men and business consultants Blair seems to
think of as technical advisors though "a massive IT modernisation
project" had a winning quality in the soundbite department plus
they could keep some of thier ex-collieges in work.

Blair is just as big a disaster as Bush -- but he's a better
looking more eloquent disaster.

depends on how you look at it (5, Insightful)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841300)

'In 2002, the English government embarked on a $12 billion effort to transform its health-care system with information technology. But the country's oversight agency now puts that figure at $24 billion

I imagine if you're the company getting paid the $24 billion, the project is a tremendous success.

Re:depends on how you look at it (1)

eviloverlordx (99809) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841398)

I figured it would be a way for all those folks to play network Solitaire.

a simple equation (2, Insightful)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841646)

(massive govn't project + taxpayer money)^(at least cubed for govn't bloat) + corporate contract = One VERY happy corp.



Equation is defined in the domain {All big govn't}

catchy name (2, Funny)

Speare (84249) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841324)

NPfIT

Clearly all that NPfIT needs to increase political buy-in and remain on schedule and under budget is a catchier name for the act. A good catchy feel-good name can bury a lot of dead bodies. Take USAPATRIOT for example. When in the private sector, adding punctuation or coining a new non-cultural word has its benefits too. Consider Cue:Cat: and Flooz.

never heard of it. (2, Insightful)

eighty4 (987543) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841330)

Four years, a couple of trips to hospital, and more than a handful of GP appointments and this is the first I've heard of it. Way to go, NHS(!). Perhaps a better way to spend $24m (or whatever that is in £real money) would have been to keep my local emergency department open, rather than sending me on a half-hour trip to the next nearest hospital...

Re:never heard of it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841518)

billion, with a b.

Re:never heard of it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841690)

I think our billion translates to a thousand million to our friends across the pond.

Re:never heard of it. (1)

eighty4 (987543) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842144)

whatever with a w :)

Fifth Largest IT Disaster (5, Funny)

ReidMaynard (161608) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841354)

In 2003 my "D" drive crashed, restore of backups failed, and I lost all my, um.... graphics.

You Try It Sometime (3, Insightful)

mpapet (761907) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841384)

and see if getting a metric ton of vendors to make their various bits all work together in some new way to deploy mega-healthcare infrastructure gets close to working. One vendor typically does not want to know or care to know what the others are doing which makes for lots of daily progress.

Oh wait, then there's the legacy system vendors.

Easy, in fact, too easy to take shots at programs like this.

They stand such a high rate of failure that incremental change should have been adopted in the first place. The politicians behind this one have all disowned the project by now I'm sure.

Re:You Try It Sometime (2, Funny)

slashflood (697891) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841758)

see if getting a metric ton of vendors
There's the rub.

Overarching (5, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841434)

The word "overarching" comes to mind whenever I hear about projects like this. If there's anything my years in software and systems has taught me, it's that starting with a monolithic design will mean monolithic failure. You invariably end up with too many cooks, all working on Lord knows what, accomplishing a very expensive nothing. There's just too much coordination to maintain any semblence of progress.

In fact, the most successful large scale projects always seem to be grown out of combinations of smaller architectures rather than a single massive architecture. Look at the Internet for an example. The protocol was architected. The routing design was architected. The information delivery systems were architected. The network itself? Grown with tender loving care, and Lots'o'peering agreements.

If you want to solve an issue like modernizing Hospital IT, start small and work your way up. Design each technology independently, but not monolithically. Keep an eye toward standards rather than specific implementations. (Standards will allow you to plug in a few competing implementations, giving you "best of breed" options.) Then use those technologies to build out a few test sites. Work out the kinks, then start deploying at a few more sites. Keep doing that, and the economics of scale will begin to take hold. (i.e. The more you do of something, the less expensive it gets to do it.) With any luck, the project will get done within a reasonable budget and timeline.

In late September, Accenture, the global management and technology consultancy

Never mind what I just said. There's your answer right there. :P

I could do it for a million. (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841440)

C'mon. A few Dell servers in a datacentre, running Gentoo and Postgres, and all the docs hooked up over ADSL - I mean, it must be that easy, right?

i work on this project (5, Informative)

alucinor (849600) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841446)

I actually work on this project, an application called Choose and Book. We've had a lot of success: little downtime, significant uptake, and physicians seem pleased with the user interface. If you want to know, it allows people at their general practitioner to book appointments with a specialist at a hospital. It actually does a lot more, but I don't want to burden you with details. It's a J2EE application.

This project is far from being a "disaster" as the British newspapers (little better than tabloids) like to tout it as. And the project has very little to do with Microsoft or Bill Gates. Most of the software my company is delivering is C/C++/Java running on IBM AIX.

If you want the opinion of a software developer on the inside of this thing, take my word for it: this article is trash. Like any huge project, it's just moving along slower than anyone first anticipated.

In the end, the British healthcare system is going to be faster and cheaper because of Connecting for Health.

Re:i work on this project (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16841592)

For the $Billions, the physicians should be pleased with the user interface. I mean for that much money, the user interface better just plug into the back of the brain!

Re:i work on this project (2, Insightful)

kraut (2788) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841856)

> In the end, the British healthcare system is going to be faster and cheaper because of Connecting for Health.
$24 billion better?

Oh look, the pigs are flying in such a pretty formation today.

Given that the NHS is now laying off Doctors and Nurses for lack of cash, I think there are better ways to spend that amount of money. And I'm not talking about PFI.

Re:i work on this project (1)

alucinor (849600) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842122)

$24 billion better? Umm ... yes? No? I think that in the long run, having an electronic medical record system will save trillions of dollars for your government.

Re:i work on this project (1)

c0reboarder (885528) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842046)

*Wonders which company you work for* Last I heard this project was short listed for the major vendors. I also heard that the UK was going to be broken up into regions and that different vendors would get different regions (which sounds like a bad idea to me)... I currently write HL7 interfaces for one of the major vendors, and IMHO i think a single vendor solution for the blunt of things is the way to go. At least keep the Ambulatory and Inpatient charts on the same vendor, feel free to go best of breed on lab sytems, registration, etc.

Re:i work on this project (1)

Anthony (4077) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842066)

There are few times when I can say "I wish I had mod points". Thanks for providing your "Informative" comments. To be fair to the article, it does point out .Net -based Lorenzo and it's problems. Does Choose and Book tie in with this?

EDS Strikes again... (1)

Channard (693317) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841458)

.. was what I was thinking, even before I read the article. Disappointingly I was wrong. EDS was the company responsible for a large number of failed or messed-up government computer projects. So the question is, given that another company entirely screwed up, are these projects just to sprawling and optimistic to actually work? My money is on yes.

It's failing because good IT people will avoid it (4, Interesting)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841470)

I know the reason that this project, and others like it, will fail. This project cannot attract great IT people to work on it because its boring and run by bureaucrats. I'm a strong IT developer but I'd never work on a project like this. Life is just too short. I'd look for something a lot more fun that will attract great people to work with.

Re:It's failing because good IT people will avoid (2, Insightful)

pev (2186) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841920)

For a proper slice of the 12 billion pounds I'd be tempted to put up with the boredom for a year or two...

~Pev

Re:It's failing because good IT people will avoid (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842020)

Y'know, I was one of several interviewers interviewing a candidate who answered an impossible question, with something along the lines of "I wouldn't do that", or something else indicating that he would give up rather than flog the dead horse. I thought it was the correct answer, but the other interviewer thought it displayed lack of dedication. Anyway, that person wasn't hired and the project failed. It really would have been better to give up early. C'est L'vie.

This is what happens when there's no profit motive (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841472)

The behind-the-scenes IT operations for UPS (well, and the public-facing stuff) completely eclipses something like this, and it runs more or less like clockwork... substitute merchants for doctors, integrated warehouse operations for pharmacies, and half the civilized world tracking shipments in the second half of December... and then COMPETE with FedEx or DHL, and you get: success. Socialized stuff like this chokes because it involves people who don't quite have the fire lit under their asses the way that they would in a more competitive setting.

Re:This is what happens when there's no profit mot (1)

kalidasa (577403) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841854)

There's a bit of skew on this, though. You never hear about major IT disasters at private companies because 1. it's competition sensitive information anyway, and 2. if it's a major disaster, the company is snuffed out of existence. Remember, too, that most companies are nowhere near the size of a big government ministry because they don't have the huge customer interface: millions of customers, and millions of different types of contacts.

Re:This is what happens when there's no profit mot (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842240)

Remember, too, that most companies are nowhere near the size of a big government ministry because they don't have the huge customer interface: millions of customers, and millions of different types of contacts

Hence my citation of UPS (www.ups.com). They DO have millions of customers and hundreds of integration schemes, and it has to work, around the clock. They're a great example of doing it right (as is FedEx). You're right that the really spectacular failures put private businesses OUT of business... but that's part of why government projects are so horrific. Those fail, and there's no conesequences (except to the taxpayers). So, they just do it all over again.

NSH IT's a security disaster too (2, Informative)

giafly (926567) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841480)

"The front page lead in [November 1st] Guardian [guardian.co.uk] explains how personal medical data (including details of mental illness, abortions, pregnancy, drug taking, alcohol abuse, fitting of colostomy bags etc etc) are to be uploaded to a central NHS database regardless of patients' wishes.

The Government claims that especially sensitive data can be put into a "sealed envelope" which would not ordinarily be available... except that NHS staff will be able to "break the seal" under some circumstances; the police and Government agencies will be able to look at the whole record -- and besides, this part of the database software doesn't even exist yet, and so the system will be running without it for some time."

Security Research, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge [lightbluetouchpaper.org]

Might be the most expensive, but... (1)

Jennifer York (1021509) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841486)

This might be the most expensive boondoggle, but a disaster is where peoples lives are lost. There are better [monash.edu.au] examples [wired.com] of computer disasters.

Re:Might be the most expensive, but... (1)

giafly (926567) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841828)

This might be the most expensive boondoggle, but a disaster is where peoples lives are lost. There are better examples of computer disasters.
Many lives will be lost. People who can't trust the medical system are less likely to get diagnosis or treatment and some of them will die. This affects a whole country, so the numbers will quickly add up.

"sleepwalking toward disaster" (0, Flamebait)

Raistlin77 (754120) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841504)

...sleepwalking toward disaster...

Seems the UK tends to sleepwalk often these days...

A different spin (4, Interesting)

Spiked_Three (626260) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841624)

I have been programming 25 years now and I see a different problem at the root of these massive failures.

The current state of development tools is hideous. We have some very nice powerful languages, Java, C#/.Net, some very powerful databases, but we still have to spend hideous amounts of time making them work together.

These large applications (the FBI and this Health Care system) take soooo long to spec out and build that by the time they are done the requirements have changed, the technology has changed and the developers are always having to restart the process. I will admit, I do not like web applications. They are very limited in robustness. Developers resort to hacks like AJAX to make them somewhat useable. And it makes me mad that in the 21st century I have to resort to using a text based editor to design Graphical UIs. How dumb. Yes there are some WYSIWYG editors but they NEVER get you to where you want to go. Any good web application (of which I guess there 3 or 4) had the HTML written by hand. I had hoped XAML was going to change that. It will not, at least initially. It provides much better user experience potential, but in order to develop a real application you are still going to have to code text by hand.

What went wrong? The dBase III of the 80s was a far better development environment than what we have today. We have taken several steps backwards. Yes the end products that we develop today by hand scale enormously, but they take too long to develop. We spend at least 80% of our time coding plumbing that we shouldn't even had to think about.

If you can cut the development cycle, then maybe you can get a large application developed and delivered before it is out of date. Vendors need to wake up. If someone ever comes out with a real dBase/Notes/Delphi/early VB type product that can deliver large scale applications (hopefully not on web) they would put the others out of business.

Flash: Here is your chance!

Re:A different spin (1)

Beefslaya (832030) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842016)

Mod Up...

There have been some recent developments in web application development software and data system backends.

Adobe (formerly Macromedia) have been working on making it easier with Flex, Cold Fusion and Flex Data Services.

Granted those are all extremely expensive solutions, but nonetheless on a project that size, the cost of the software vs. the cost of the labor intensive project is way more beneficial.

Re:A different spin (1)

Chas (5144) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842176)

Having worked with dBase in multiple applications I can say that there's a good reason for all the 'plumbing'.

Everything's nice when it all works.

But, when it doesn't work, how do you fix it? How do you recover from it? How do you track these problems?

dBase was great until it simply wouldn't load. Then you had to dig through the system for every known bug, since most of the error messages weren't exactly helpful.

Or if you corrupted a file or set of files when bombing out of a locked app. BOHICA.

All this extra 'plumbing' is in there for a reason. So we don't have to do all sorts of arcane things for all sorts of arcane reasons, just to maybe get something halfway working again.

SOX compliance (1)

gelfling (6534) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841642)

Huge waste of effort time and money. All in the name of making sure of something or other vaguely related to another Enron. We spend billions every year furiously auditing and managing compliance for essentially zero net improvement in security.

Re:SOX compliance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16842226)

Amen Brother/Sister

Brazil has excellent national healthcare software (1)

TheNarrator (200498) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841668)

http://www.infoq.com/articles/Brasilian-Healthcare -System [infoq.com]


The Brazilian National Healthcare System has been called the largest Enterprise Java application ever built, with over 2M lines of code, and a domain model of 350 classes. The application models all of the domain concepts one could imagine in a country-wide health care system and is bringing a level of automation that is creating enormous value for the public healthcare system as well as for the people of Brazil. This case study, the only one of it's kind, takes a detailed look at the architecture, interesting solutions, lessons learned, and future directions for the project.

Old Skool failure: CONFIRM/RS (1)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841706)

There aren't many references to it on the newfangled Internet (though three of the five results of this search [google.com] are relevant), but back in the late '80s to early '90s, some of the biggest names in travel got together to create CONFIRM/RS. Hilton Hotels, Budget Rent-A-Car, and Marriott got together with a division of AMR to create it. AMR, with the biggest reservation system in the galaxy in SABRE, was clearly in the best position to develop the next generation reservations system.

Then again, maybe not.

I wasn't on the CONFIRM side -- I was doing tech support for Hilton and Budget's existing systems, which were being managed by AMR as part of the project. (Definitely one of the coolest jobs ever, BTW, even if it did mean waking up at 5am to talk to Bahrain and then staying until 6pm to troubleshoot problems in Brisbane.) But when it all came crashing down, I was close enough to hear the thud. From one of the links in the Google search above:

With a technical staff headcount of more than 200(DMN) programmers, systems analysts and engineers and an additional 200+(IW) support and administrative people on the Confirm project, one would think that sufficient resources had been gathered. In terms of skills and abilities, that was in fact the case. The main pieces of the project were clearly defined in 47,000 pages of documentation,(DMN) and a physical configuration was established utilizing two IBM 3090 processors: one running TPF(CW) for reservations processing and one running MVS-based DB2(CW) for decision support. By all accounts, everything should have proceeded along as planned. So what went wrong?

The many newspaper and trade journal articles written about the Confirm demise have all maintained a common pretext for the technological problems. Focusing on the multi-platform configuration, the problem being emphasized is the integration and communication between the two different operating system platforms, TPF and DB2. In addition, rumors about the use of IBM's C/370 language and the use of IBM's TPFDF feature having caused major problems on the project began to surface throughout the industry.

[...]
According to a recent article in Hotel Business News magazine, insiders reported that AMR sent in a "SWAT team" of experts from their SABRE Computer Services division (SCS), to evaluate the Confirm situation. They uncovered serious flaws in the system's design. This was corroborated by a statement issued by AMR spokesman Al Becker, saying that AMR "believed that the project was on schedule and on track through the end of March." However, after problems came to light in April, "AMR launched a full-scale inquiry to investigate all areas of the system. A team of SABRE Computer Services experts was brought in to better evaluate the situation and assist in initiating corrective actions."

The SCS assessment determined that the problems uncovered would require 18 months to correct, delaying the project well into 1993. "For management to suddenly learn -- years into the project -- that they're still 18 months off, can only mean one thing: They didn't know where they were in the project" in the first place! "Somewhere in there, you've got a management problem(DMN)" said Donald Tatzin, director of Arthur D. Little's travel consulting practice.

I still have some extremely unofficial documentation -- a satirical look at the unfolding and eventually unravelling project, written with the people and organizations represented by pseudonyms. For example, Mary Ott = Mariott. When Mariott pulled out of the project, character Mary Ott died in a tragic elevator accident, IIRC. They started out on an internal bulletin board that bore a surprising resemblance to what I'd later know as Usenet. They still exist in the form of printouts in my drawer... I'll have to transcribe them some day and put them online, now that all the players have moved on and the lawsuits have -- probably -- all been settled.

Big surprise... (4, Interesting)

sane? (179855) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841710)

I was involved in the early stages of this. Even from the beginning it had screwup written all over it - so bad that many of those who looked and examined it walked away. Rather than define standards it defined a monolythic entity that was then broken into 6 blocks, given to separate contractors, and then they were told they had to fit together. Then they held a competition to force prices down, played even more tricks to force the price even further down, and gave it to the lowest price bidder. The few weeks around that time were nuts with people taking the most shiny, most optimistic assumptions to beat the competition. 20% off best and final tells its own story.

We haven't even got to the part yet where things really go wrong, they are further down the line. However we already have large firms doing anything to get out and taking large losses to do so.

It is a huge disaster in the making and should be canned as soon as possible. What will be delivered will be an embarassing mess in comparison to what anyone here would expect from a 21st century health system. I'm trying to make sure my data goes nowhere near it

involved in the early stages .. (1)

rs232 (849320) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841946)

"I was involved in the early stages of this"

What exactly failed. What hardware/software was chosen. Who were the contractors. What kind of network topology. How does a power cut [silicon.com] in the north of England cause a distributed data base fallover in kent [theregister.co.uk] . Has something on this scale ever been done previously. If as you say they force prices down then where did the $12 billion go exactly.

was Re:Big surprise...

Y2K? (1)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841712)

With 300 billion spent in the US alone fixing it, it seems like a significant "disaster" even if most people managed to avoid it.

Dying for Data (2, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841724)

For more information about electronic medical records, and the efforts to create national medical databases, I would suggest an article that appeared in IEEE Spectrum's October issue [ieee.org] entitled "Dying for Data." [ieee.org] The article describes some of the monumental challenges in creating such a system, profiles the British effort, and highlights the success that the Mayo Clinic [mayoclinic.org] has had in moving to electronic records [mayoclinic.org] for all its patients.

[I can't link to the full text of the article, because that issue is not longer current. IEEE members can log in and view it, however.]

Lost Confidence (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841734)

Among the problems the project has encountered:

One key health-care software subcontractor, IDX, was dropped from the program in April 2005 after one of the project's prime contractors, Fujitsu, "lost confidence" in its abilities, according to the NAO. IDX failed to respond to requests for a comment.


Come on, doesn't anyone have some type of enhancement pill they can prescribe for Fujitsu in its time of crisis? Or doesn't anyone want to comment on that either?

Health Care + Government Agency + IT System = (1)

fortinbras47 (457756) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841744)

DISASTER. Not like it's hard to see this one coming.

In health care, you don't have to computerize 10 documents or even a hundred, its in the thousands and thousands... Docters are set in their ways and can be slow to change... Health care is governed by a complex interlocking set of rules, regulations, etc...

Add to this complexity all the efficienct and results oriented forward planning of a government bureaucracy and you can be almost guaranteed that you will be building a boondoggle.

IMHO this is totally expected. If the system worked, that would be reason for a big headline.

Duke Nukem Forever (2, Interesting)

Zantetsuken (935350) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841756)

so if I understand the summary right, they've basically done what the DNF dev team did - they want it to be the latest and greatest, so when they are just about done, they decide to upgrade the hardware or programming language, causing a need for the other to be upgraded (code a wont run on hardware y, or hardware x wont run code b) - therefor skyrocketing costs...

Sounds simple enough (1)

singingjim (957822) | more than 7 years ago | (#16841950)

How could anyone screw that easy task up?

Per capita... (4, Informative)

pev (2186) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842082)

...this is around £200 / 400USD. Ouch - kinda puts it into context...

~Pev

I was employed by one of the companies (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16842086)

(though I wasn't involved in the project -- it was a completely different division. However, I did pay attention to news and rumors). I won't mention which company, but they actively sought out another company to acquire them, due to their faiure on this project.

Anyhow, I wasn't surprised when the company failed it, and I'm not surprised that the project is a failure.

How UK taxpayer money get stolen... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16842104)

This New Labour government happens to be the most corrupt in history.
In fact Phoney Blair and his cohorts make Robert Mugabe look like a saint.
Here's how Billions upon billions of UK taxpayer money is stolen from the public :-
1. Announce a project of your liking (Millenium Dome, Wembley, Terminal 5, London Olympics, NHS IT restructuring...)
2. Declare that the project will last only 5 years and cost the public only e.g. £100million
3. Decide how long you you think you can safely stretch it out to
e.g. stretch out Project X to at least 10 years and inflate the costs 10-fold
5. appoint your own no-bid contractors who have especially set up bank accounts in the
Channel islands etc and who can then easily transfer monies into your offshore accounts
4. keep coming up with excuses - and at the last resort blame contractors so you can get as much taxpayer money as possible.
It has wokred for them time and again. UNTIL NOW...
Once people wake up to what is happening - we can make the necessary changes.....

Project Leader Attacked by His Own Mum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16842138)

The Inquirer is running a report http://www.theinquirer.net/default.aspx?article=35 685 [theinquirer.net] in which it is claimed that the leader of the project failed his computer science exams at university. What is really funny is that it is his mother who let this cat out of the bag.

Choice quote: "The retired teacher, who hasn't spoken to her son for ten years after a family row, said yesterday: 'I can't believe that my son is running the IT modernisation programme for the whole of the NHS."

(You might wonder why she is attacking her own son: she did so in protest at the closure, or threatened closure, of a local health facility, the cost of which is dwarfed by the amount that has sunk into the black hole that this project appears to have become.)

Yay NHS! (1)

BertieBaggio (944287) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842186)

I work in the NHS. I hope to one day practice clinically for the NHS. I usually like to espouse the benefits of a nationalised healthcare system, but fuckups of this magnitude piss me off. Aside from the fact that other organizations can do better with less (see NASA, etc), these kind of things normally come back to the same mistake: failure to plan (design) properly.

Even looking at some of the touted features in the summary, I can see bad decisions:

"...allow for the electronic storage and retrieval of patient medical records..."

We have this already. It doesn't work. Well, I can't speak for hospitals - the only IT system I've seen in use in hospitals is what looked like an old version of Unix. That said, it looked like it (mostly) worked. In the surgeries I work in, we use GPASS. It doesn't work. When it does, it runs like a dog. Case in point: yesterday, we had the server in our practice go down. ALL STAFF (clinical and clerical - doctors, nurses, admin staff, receptionists) were unable to use their computers until the server came back up. It takes 20 minutes for the server to come back up, so fortunately it happened towards the end of the day (and not during a busy 'flu clinic), so disruption wasn't as bad as it could have been.

So essentially what they want to do is replace a barely working decentralised solution with a nonfunctional centralised one. Can anyone say "single point of failure" ?

"...permit patients to set up appointments via their computers..."

Haha! All I can say is "yeah, right". We currently have a booking system designed to minimize defaulting an appointment, which has the result that the doctors have less time wasted, and therefore more time to see patients. And still we get complaints. A patient led system would be chaos. I can see the benefit for hospital referrals, which are usually made comparatively well in advance, although the departments normally send out appointments themselves.

"...and let doctors electronically transmit prescriptions to local pharmacies"

This doesn't help that much, since the physical copies still need to be sent for verification. Scripts can be phoned through, which is convenient enough. Perhaps this could be of more use to hospital doctors, although they don't normally act completely independent of GPs - care is normally shared (letters exchanged, phone calls if necessary, etc) anyway.

It all comes back to bad decisions - first the politicians make the bad decision to announce a new nationwide IT system that will bring the NHS into the 21st century. Then the managers make bad decisions on what features to implement to make it the 'ultimate IT upgrade'. Finally, some ill-concieved, vague spec is handed to the software engineers and those putting the hardware together. The result... well, doesn't work.

And all it cost was £12B. Or maybe double that...

Sorry for the rant, but I have to work with some systems which are pretty abysmal in some respects (mousewheel scrolling our appointment list causes errors, to pick one off the top of my head). I'd like some choice, like being able to use linux/*bsd/solaris/whatever on a *server* instead of windows. More importantly, I'd like a NHS IT project that actually worked for a reasonable sum.

If anyone working in the NHS has a more optimistic view than me, I'd really like to hear it. And if any of the GPASS devs read /. : get a new project manager!

Wait until the follow up (1)

mikerich (120257) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842214)

In an official statement the British government expressed its delight with the recognition of NPfIT.

'We've been working on this for years,' a spokesman burbled, 'honestly, we'd like to thank EDS, Lockheed, Siemens, Microsoft and BT who've been laying down the groundwork for this cockup for years now.'

To what do they owe their success?

'Pacing, it's all about pacing. We started small with screw-ups in the Magistrates system, Air Traffic Control and the Child Support Agency, then we could take on more ambitious schemes.

'Frankly we never thought we'd top our work on the Passport network or the Department of Work and Pensions - I mean it's hard to beat ruining people's holidays or taking away their benefits. But somehow, we managed; personally I think it was getting a guy who failed his computing courses [theinquirer.net] to run the project that sealed the win. We're thrilled, no one anywhere can boast of a track record like this, it's good to see Britain taking the lead in this exciting new field of technology.'

So will this mark the culmination of British government IT failures?

'Not for a minute!' the spokesman laughed, 'you ain't seen anything yet. Wait until we get to work on ID cards - we think we've got the perfect combination, a PM who couldn't spell Internet if he tried, a government department described by its own head as 'unfit for purpose', snakeoil biometric technology, a ludicrous budget, no specification and best of all, the guy who nearly bankrupted Sainsbury's with their IT system [theregister.co.uk] ! Stay tuned!'

Impossible to know from the outside (1)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | more than 7 years ago | (#16842306)

I worked on a state child support system project that was regularly denounced in the media as a "disaster".

I'm not going to go into all the details here, but most of the stories were just bunk. The users, who had despised the old system when it was rolled out, suddenly loved it and hated the new system. So they went to the media with their complaints. Nobody wanted to hear actual *reasons* for anything.

Ever since I take any story like this with a HUGE grain of salt.
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