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B.C. Auditor-General urges more oversight for government IT projects

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British Columbia's information technology projects must be developed with input from people who actually use them to ensure they don't fail, the province's Auditor-General says.

Carol Bellringer released a report Tuesday, saying the right experts must also be hired, without over-reliance on contractors, and more consistent leadership is needed on multimillion-dollar projects that should be realistically planned for future needs.

"In 2014-15 alone, the government spent $668 million on IT capital or developing new IT systems and enhancing existing systems," she said, adding such projects involve more than just technology.

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"They often result in substantial changes to an organization's culture and processes," Bellringer said of the risk and complexity involved.

Her report highlighted several IT projects that it has already audited as either failures or mired in challenges, leading to poor service for taxpayers.

They included a Health Ministry project called Panorama, for which a vendor was contracted to perform system testing that would normally be done by staff, contributing to problems with quality.

Another project, used by three ministries including the Children's Ministry, also lacked consultation with staff, who found it unfit for their jobs.

Projects exceeding $50 million in capital spending must be publicly reported, but Bellringer recommended that operating costs also be disclosed as part of a project's total expenditure.

"It's not something you can find in any one place," she said.

Alternative service delivery agreements, where part or all of an IT project is contracted to a private-sector vendor, are not required to be reported, and Bellringer said ministries currently have $4.6 billion committed to 12 multi-year deals.

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She made two other recommendations, including the government's need to monitor all of its IT projects and expectations of services.

"Currently, central government oversight is focused on ministry IT projects even though broader public-sector IT projects account for the bulk of government IT investment."

Both the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services responded to Bellringer's report, saying they accept the recommendations and have begun work to meet the auditor general's calls to action.

"To support the central monitoring of IT projects across government, 2017-18 mandate letters will request broader public sector entities to identify significant IT projects to the responsible minister," the ministries said in a joint statement in the report.

Bellringer's report shows that recent or ongoing IT projects involving $50 million or more in capital costs for various ministries total $2.27 billion, with $780 million going toward BC Hydro's smart meter program.

Another $480 million is earmarked to establish a common clinical information system across three health authorities for projects expected to be completed by 2023, while $318 million is to update the Insurance Corp. of B.C.'s technology by the end of the year.

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