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Biggest IT Disaster Ever? 405

Posted by kdawson
from the I-can-top-that-one dept.
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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Biggest IT Disaster Ever?

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  • Honorable Mention (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:41PM (#16841230) Journal
    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: (Score:2, Insightful)

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

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

    • by creimer (824291)
      It's a boondoggle. America has the "Bridge to Nowhere" and they have the "Fiber Optic Health Care".
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:54PM (#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.

      • by Atlantis-Rising (857278) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @04:07PM (#16842816) Homepage
        You're comparing purposefully designed flaws done by the CIA with Microsoft incompetence? THat's kind of a stretch.

        More importantly, perhaps, was the fact that the CIA was also screwing with the HARDWARE at a manufacturing level.

        Frankly, your entire argument doesn't make sense at any level. If the Soviets had the people to check the software in-house, it would have been far more reasonable and realistic for them to make the software in-house too. Instead, the entire REASON the KGB was stealing this software was because they COULDN'T develop it themselves.

        For god's sake, the KGB was stealing American technology and the CIA introduced purposeful bugs to counter them. That's got abso-fucking-lutely nothing do to with IT and everything to do with spycraft.

        Only an absurd zealot would be in able to connect that somehow to Microsoft being bad.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by salimma (115327)
          Microsoft did do something similar in the past. Windows 3.1 (AFAIR) would check if it was running on top of DR-DOS, and if so would randomly fail.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dulridge (454779)

      Sheer size. The NHS employs around a million people (882,000 for England alone) and you are talking about the records for nearly 60 million living people (and the digitised records of dead people - some clinical records are required to be kept for 75 years after the death of the patient). The NHS is 58 years old. That's a lot of data. Tax records are far simpler

      Number of locations - every GP surgery in the country - even the ones in the islands 10,465 of them in 2004 (figures here [rcgp.org.uk]) plus all the dentists (

  • by yagu (721525) * <yayagu@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:42PM (#16841244) Journal

    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 develop

    • by kraut (2788)
      > 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.
    • by curunir (98273) * on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:15PM (#16841860) Homepage Journal
      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... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by byolinux (535260) * on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:44PM (#16841284) Journal
    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... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kraut (2788) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:56PM (#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.
  • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mendaliv (898932)
      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 physicia
    • 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
  • by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:46PM (#16841300) Homepage
    '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.
    • a simple equation (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bananatree3 (872975)

      (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 (Score:3, Funny)

    by Speare (84249) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:47PM (#16841324) Homepage Journal

    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. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by eighty4 (987543)
    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...
  • by ReidMaynard (161608) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:49PM (#16841354) Homepage
    In 2003 my "D" drive crashed, restore of backups failed, and I lost all my, um.... graphics.
  • by mpapet (761907) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:50PM (#16841384) Homepage
    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.
  • Overarching (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman @ g m a i l . c om> on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:52PM (#16841434) Homepage Journal
    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
  • 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?
  • by alucinor (849600) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:53PM (#16841446) Journal
    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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kraut (2788)
      > 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.
      • by alucinor (849600)
        $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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BertieBaggio (944287) *
          I think that in the long run, having an electronic medical record system will save trillions of dollars for your government.

          If it works. And if it couldn't have been done for less than $24B...

    • by Anthony (4077) *
      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?
    • So do I.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @05:29PM (#16844298)
      Choose and book doesn't sit on the main NPfIT backbone as far as I'm aware. In the hospital where I work, we've had a few issues with it's implementation, but on the whole, it works after a fashion.
      Now the core NPfIT product (I take it you've had your training; The product is pretty shoddy. I managed to register several patients in the same bed (woo hoo, except you really don't want that happening), registered a male with a diagnosis of prolapsed uterus (all from the point and click menus for god's sake), crashed the front end application several times, and picked holes in their data model on several occasions.
      Their system of data aliases is broken. Relying on a hospital to have a working internet link to even access their own patient data is nuts! Now a simple snip of a couple of fibres can stop a hospital in it's tracks. No local data caches.
      This project was never truly specified correctly, and it's implementation is broken (did you know a few hospitals have refused to go live yet because of too many outstanding failures in the product, which the consultancy company has had to raise it's hands and say "You got us. Yes, it's broken.".)
      So, speaking as a front line implementer (I'm one of the systems admin team for a hospital rolling this stuff out), I'd say there's a lot of meat in this article. NPfIT scares me.

      Posting anonymously for the obvious reason that I'd rather like to keep my job.
    • by dyftm (880762) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @06:25PM (#16845168)
      I've been involved in upgrading some computers just for Choose and Book. What I want to know is why on earth you people made Internet Explorer 6 a requirement?? I must admit I haven't seen it in action, but I find it hard to believe that you couldn't accomplish the same things without IE6-only technology. No-one can upgrade to IE7, or use an alternate browser to run this thing. So, you're forcing hundreds of thousands of computers with highly sensitive medical information on them to run without the maximum security available.
  • .. 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.
  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:54PM (#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.
    • 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
    • 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.
    • No project which employed more than 20 techies ever really worked.

      Which may seem a strange comment from someone who has been involved
      in 500 plus people projects that came in.

      This was entirely due to project managers who picked the 20 best
      techies and worked them to death while giving the other 480 busy
      work.

      Obviusly given that EDS, Accenture etc. are involved the top
      0.1% in this project just werent good enough.
  • 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
    • 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.
      • by ScentCone (795499)
        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... b
    • I'd hardly hold up UPS as a model. I've had the counter staff at the UPS customer service center tell me not to bother checking with the on-line tool because it never matched reality during the holiday season. Operations that seemed to work fine during the rest of the year, like having a delivery held for pickup, took two or three tries to take effect, resulting in a couple of wasted visits to the center. Never mind the fact that UPS refused to leave packages at my apartment complex office and then would
  • by giafly (926567) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @02:55PM (#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]
  • A different spin (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spiked_Three (626260) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:03PM (#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!
    • by Chas (5144)
      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
  • 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.
  • http://www.infoq.com/articles/Brasilian-Healthcar e -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

  • 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 wa
  • Big surprise... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sane? (179855) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:06PM (#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

    • "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...
  • 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 (Score:3, Informative)

    by necro81 (917438) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:07PM (#16841724) Journal
    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.]
  • 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?
  • 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 totall

  • Duke Nukem Forever (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Zantetsuken (935350)
    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...
  • Per capita... (Score:5, Informative)

    by pev (2186) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:26PM (#16842082) Homepage
    ...this is around £200 / 400USD. Ouch - kinda puts it into context...

    ~Pev
  • 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 o

  • 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 am

  • 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.
  • by mikerich (120257) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:47PM (#16842452)
    The NPfIT system relies on a system called the IT Spine which will contain medical records of all people in the UK. These records can be shared around the network and can potentially be viewed by some 250,000 health workers. There is, at present, almost no provision for the protection of personal health records - the most personal information can be viewed without the knowledge of the patient's own doctor or the patient. The system is meant to have protections built in, including a series of 'sealed envelopes' where the most confidential information can be stored - none of them have been implemented.

    The government has also passed legislation that will allow anyone on the system to release confidential information about a patient when it is seen to be in 'the public interest' (a deliberately vague term). Previously personal information could only be released under specific circumstances with the consent of a patient's GP or specialist. You can imagine how insecure this will be and what a tempting target for blackmailers and scum-sucking journalists looking for dirt.

    Despite these concerns the government is proceeding to upload personal information on to the Spine using a system of 'implied consent' - that is, if you don't opt out, your data will be put on to this privacy nightmare. Once the information is on the Spine you cannot ask for it to be removed, nor amend it where it is found to be incorrect. The Guardian has produced the most readable to this [guardian.co.uk]meltdown [guardian.co.uk] and has also published a guide to ensuring your personal data is not put on to the spine [guardian.co.uk].

  • by Dekortage (697532) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:50PM (#16842518) Homepage

    Although many people are not aware of it, the Veterans Health Administration (otherwise known as the Veterans Affairs/VA hospital network) in the United States has progressed from a backwards, poorly-kept system in the 1980s to the best, most advanced medical organization in the nation. Read more here [charlestonbusiness.com], here [washingtonmonthly.com], or this reprint from Time Magazine [va.gov].

    It's proof that government + healthcare + technology does not always equal disaster.

  • by hey (83763) on Tuesday November 14, 2006 @03:57PM (#16842608) Journal
    Wiki sez:

    The project which was meant to cost approximately $119 million ended up costing over a billion dollars to implement. Documents obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation now estimate the program cost at $2 billion.

    I don't get how it can cost so much when its just a simple database app that most of us could write in a day. However I have heard that noncompliance of gun nuts was a cost. Eg flushing rolls of toilet paper to cause a flood.

     

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