Company praises computer system sold to N.S. despite cost, deadline issues

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - A Vancouver company is boasting that the problem-plagued computer system it sold Nova Scotia for its Registry of Motor Vehicles was a success despite cost overruns and missed deadlines.
Make Technologies Inc. claims on its website that by switching Service Nova Scotia's computer system to a web-based Java version, "significant cost savings and business process improvements resulted."
The statement appears at the top of Make's home page under the heading Application Modernization at Lower Risk and Cost, next to a photograph of a smiling motorist and Nova Scotia licence plate.
That's far from the picture painted by documents the Halifax Chronicle Herald obtained under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The heavily censored confidential briefing notes to the department's minister and other records describe the lengthy waits people have endured to renew their driver's licences and car registrations between the introduction of the computer system in April 2008 and July 2009.
Government staffers also have been 30 to 40 per cent less productive and are working overtime to try to catch up, the documents say.
That cost the province an extra $1.2 million in overtime during the new system's first year. And the department doesn't expect to have major improvements finished until spring.
Bill Bergen, the president of Make, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.
But Kevin Malloy, the deputy minister of Service Nova Scotia, said Wednesday that his department has no regrets about being the first customer to buy Make's computer system for its mainframe modernization project.
"It wasn't a concern, in retrospect," Malloy said after appearing before the legislature's public accounts committee, which met to focus on another matter.
"It's a bit trying at times but I know we're making progress. I know we've implemented a lot of improvements in the last number of months."
The province had a requirement for Make to do a small job at the outset to demonstrate the technology, Malloy said.
But it has been far from successful, costing more than the $12.9 million it was supposed to and taking longer than expected to get it working properly.
"If you were to compare it to what some of the other states are doing right now, we still believe our costs to be very competitive," Malloy said.
Barrington Consulting Group of Halifax was hired to implement the system without a guarantee to ensure the job was finished by the end of its contract. It has been working since earlier this year on retainer, he said.
"When we went live, we knew that there would be additional things that we would have to work out," Malloy said.
"We had no idea how to anticipate that, so there was no way to walk into a contractual arrangement for that other than to say, `As needed, we would bring you back to help us through the pieces of the puzzle that were not yet put in place.'
"In all honesty, I thought the job was done when they signed off."
Despite the problems, Nova Scotia is exporting the system to Trinidad and Tobago.
Service Nova Scotia is offering leaves of six to eight months to some of its staffers so they can work on introducing the program in the Caribbean country.
Malloy said his department is looking at letting up to six people go but doesn't know when that will be. Barrington Consulting would pay them.
The province will get $820,000 from Trinidad and Tobago for software licensing and paid a management fee of two per cent of Barrington's contract.

Organizations: Registry of Motor Vehicles, Technologies Inc., Halifax Chronicle Herald Barrington Consulting Group of Halifax

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Vancouver, Trinidad and Tobago Caribbean

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