State pulls plug on multi-million dollar computer system

2:52 PM, Apr 27, 2013   |    comments
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Tennessee officials are halting work on a multi-million dollar computer project after years of missed deadlines and design defects.

Leaders in the Department of Human Services informed employees Thursday that its contract with a software developer will be allowed to expire in June, discontinuing seven years of work on the Vision Integration Platform (VIP).

The software was being put in place to modernize how the department handles its food stamp and Medicaid caseload. The system was also supposed to determine eligibility and connect with other state agency computers.

Department leaders offered little detail on Friday about what went wrong or what will happen next.

"This is a very complex project overall," said Tricia Reinhard, DHS finance and administration director. "We're examining every alternative we have, including what we already have in place with VIP."

The project was launched in 2005 with a $37 million price tag and a four-year contract awarded to Atlanta-based Albion Inc., according to a news release at the time. The company won a competitive bid against four others.

Officials wanted the system to replace the outdated ACCENT software created in 1992, before major changes to the way the department oversees its programs and funding were set in motion.

But the first targeted completion date came and went in 2009.

A state comptroller audit in 2012 said the software was designed and being tested, but that changes were in the works, "due to defects in current designs or new functionality requirements." The completion date was pushed back to April 1 of this year.

Auditors said that midway through 2011, DHS had spent $18.6 million, with an additional $19.5 million budgeted for the rest of the effort.

The department also budgeted $1.2 million to pay other companies for quality assurance, most of which was spent - bringing the total spent on the program so far to just under $20 million.

In late 2012, department spokeswoman Devin Stone said deadlines were put off "to ensure that the department is building the best possible IT system."

Reinhard wouldn't detail what caused delays.

"We intended to have a project end date of 2009 and now it is 2013," she said.

At one point last year, the project triggered a lawsuit between a contractor and a subcontractor concerning incomplete work. Officials said the suit did not contribute to delays. The companies dismissed the lawsuit in January.

About 50 DHS staffers were dedicated to the VIP at any given time. They will return to other work duties while the department continues using its current software, in place for 20 years now, Reinhard said.

Delays not unique to DHS

The VIP software isn't the only large-scale technology project to challenge the state. Others, typically involving contractors, have hindered operations in agencies including the Department of Children's Services, the Department of Revenue, and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The state also had problems creating its "Project Edison" payroll system.

Those snags prompted Gov. Bill Haslam to create a Business Solutions Delivery office to centralize IT expertise and contracting.

Difficulties also contributed to a recent administration decision to require the state's 1,600 information technology workers to reapply for their jobs. A consulting firm will be screening out employees with lagging skills.

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