It’s been another relatively normal week in the land of IT inconveniences except perhaps for government computing systems, which is where we will concentrate our focus this week. We start off with the problems occurring in several U.S. states that recently introduced new IT infrastructure that is proving balkier than hoped.
Nevada, Massachusetts, and North Carolina Each Have Buggy New IT Systems
On 26 August, Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) took down its 30-year-old unemployment insurance system and began the rollout of its new $45 million UInv system. In a press release issued that day, DETR announced (pdf) that the new system would be operational on 1 September; 51 000 or so Nevadans looking to file unemployment claims would have to wait until then.
However, the DETR enthused that after four years of development the new system would be worth the wait since it would, “allow claimants to view up-to-date information related to their individual claims. It will also give claimants access to their payment history and allow them instant, real time feedback on their unemployment claim.”
Unfortunately, the UInv system wasn’t ready for prime time until 4 September. The DETR "explained" (pdf) the delay in a subsequent press release, citing a number of undisclosed “minimal issues.” The DETR release went on to say that the department was “being very conservative” with the launch of the new system, and it asked for “patience as we gradually ramp up the new system to full deployment over the coming days.”
The Nevadans affected by the delay were clearly not amused. The DETR had promised that when the new system was up and running, “claims and benefit services will continue as normal.” But by the 4th, it was backpedaling on that promise. The ballyhooed new online system wasn’t working and wouldn’t be for another three days. And according to the Las Vegas Sun, Nevadans couldn’t reach anyone at the DETR to get help with their claims. The reason was a study in irony: the phone lines were unexpectedly overwhelmed with callers when the DETR encouraged claimants to call in because online access had not yet become operational.
A DETR spokesperson said unhelpfully, “keep calling, relax and we will get to you.” After hours upon hours of waiting on hold, many Nevadans gave up. Governor Brian Sandoval is said to be aware of the problem, but there is little that he can do in reality.
DETR says no one will miss out on their unemployment checks since the claims would be backdated, but also admitted that it may still take a while for the payments to be made. Hope none of those unemployed Nevadans have any pressing bills to pay. Future upgrades to the UInv system are schedule for later this year and early next, which everyone no doubt hopes will be smoother.
Massachusetts residents who receive unemployment insurance are also unhappy with that state’s new unemployment benefits computer system that was launched in July. The $46 million system ($6 million over budget) has been plagued by problems and is “unable to make proper payments to hundreds of financially strapped workers hunting for jobs,” according to a Boston Globe story.
The system's contractor, Deloitte Consulting, has until the end of the month to fix the system without penalty, the Globe reports, but the newspaper also states that, “It's unclear what remedies are available to the state if the system is still not working properly after that.”
Deloitte says it has hired extra workers to help with the backlog of unemployment claims as well as notices sent out by the new system to unemployed workers demanding repayment for money they never received.
Former secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Suzanne Bump, who is now the state auditor, listed the upgrading of the new system as one of her accomplishments during her tenure at the labor department, but the Globe states that she is now trying to disassociate herself from the project as quickly as possible. A big surprise, eh?
Michelle Amante, the state official now in charge of the project, used to work for Deloitte on the project. She claims that despite all of the problems, “we fundamentally believe that the system is working.” Another big surprise.
Finally, joining (or remaining in) the ranks of unhappy constituents this week are North Carolina residents and businesses. The state recently rolled out two new systems, one called NCFast and the other NCTracks. NCFast (North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology), which was “soft-launched” in mid-summer (the system will not be finished until 2017), is the new N.C. Department of Health and Human Services computer system that is supposed to streamline the work activities and business processes of the department and county social services agencies so that more time can be spent helping those requiring public assistance and less on bureaucratic tasks.
However, there have been ongoing issues with the $48 million system that have caused many families on food-assistance to go without their benefits. The state is blaming the counties for the problems, while the counties are blaming the state.
The same department has another headache in the form of its new NCTracks system. (I have no idea what that is an acronym for, if in fact it is one.) On 1 July, the department launched its controversial $484 million system in the wake of a state audit (pdf) released in May that cast doubt on whether the system—which was $200 million over budget and two years late—was ready to go live. The audit cited, among other things, the lack of testing of key system elements.
The Department of Human Services insisted on 1 July that there was nothing major to worry about, regardless of what the audit reported. It conceded that there might be an “initial rough patch of 30 to 90 days as providers get used to using the new system,” but that there should be smooth sailing after that. Well, it has been a very rough patch indeed for many providers, who are, after 70 days and counting, still very unhappy with the system. The department has even had to mail emergency paper checks to over a thousand providers who couldn’t get their claims accepted by the new system and were facing financial hardship. A Triangle Business Journal story from last week reported that the NCTracks “has missed its own targets nearly across the board, some by significant amounts.
With the ongoing problems at both NCFast and NCTracks, North Carolina lawmakers are now going to get involved. Exactly how they intend to improve the situation is a bit of a mystery.
Australian Very Happy over Credit Card Glitch
According to a story from Australia News Nine, Carlo Spina wanted to buy a magazine at a BP service station in Sydney. However, Spina discovered that he did not have enough cash on him, which meant he had to pay by credit card. When he tried to do so, Spina had trouble getting the card to work. The few seconds spent fussing with the card reader probably saved Spina's life as an out of control SUV crashed into the service station in the path he would have taken to leave.
You can watch the very close call via a Youtube video here. Spina wasn’t hurt, but was shaken up. I don't know if he ever did read his magazine.
Volvo Recalls 2014 Models
Finally, Volvo announced that it was recalling 8000 of its 2014 model year cars in the United States and Canada because of “a software glitch that could drain the battery and cause headlights, windshield wipers and turn signals to malfunction.” The models affected include S60 and S80 sedans and XC60 and XC70 crossovers.
Of Other Interest…
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.