When I was young conversion meant going from a state of original sin to being saved by declaring Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Now, being older and having lived through some Internet Technology conversions, my conclusion is the religious process is easier. Some of you may or may not have experienced the religious conversion process, but all of us have experienced, or have been impacted by the IT conversion process.
In Minnesota the state has been in a conversion process updating their vehicle licensing system called MNLARS. It has been a boondoggle. Millions spent and it still clunks. Republicans blame Democrats. Democrats blame Republicans for not allocating enough funds. State IT Managers blame the contractor who, they say, didn’t deliver. The contractor blames the state for I don’t know why but when in doubt blame the state. Vehicle licensing centers are frustrated, as are car dealers. There are signs at centers telling customers to expect delays due to the conversion process, but they are sorry for any inconvenience. Sure they are. Circular firing squad. But hope springs eternal—be patient, with a new contractor and more time and money it will be fixed. Sure it will. Praise the Lord.
The state also has another legacy system to process Medicaid eligibility and claims called MNITS (or something like that. Notice how everything has to be an anachronism). When I was working in the health care field I asked the state for a report that broke down Medicaid spending for a certain group. They told me they couldn’t do it. Or maybe they could, but just didn’t want to. I don’t know. What I do know is what good is a system where you put stuff in and can’t get stuff out? After all, I am a taxpayer who helped pay for it, but so much for customer service.
Having experienced a couple of IT conversion processes in my career in government and the non-profit sector, I can outline in a fairly accurate way how these things go. Ergo, here are the steps. I confess up front that I am probably leaving some out, but I’m not a techie. What I do know is don’t let the techies drive the process. They think they know everything because they know math. They are full of it. Unfortunately you can’t get along without them because you don’t know math.
Here are the steps:
- Mo tells Joe at the state that he’s getting a lot of complaints about our outdated system.Joe says he’ll take it up the ladder.
- Joe tells Jane we need to update our system. Jane asked Joe, well, can you fix it yourself? Joe shakes his head no, and says will have to put it out to bid. Jane asked Joe how much it will cost, and Joe says he doesn’t know until a contractor comes in and tells him. Jane says she’ll put a placeholder in the budget and take it to Administration.
- After winding its way through the state’s procurement approval process, a call goes out for a request for proposal (RFP) to the private sector to analyze the state’s system and propose a remedy.
- Bids come in and a review committee reviews the proposals. Despite the tech jargon, everyone on the committee pretends to understand them. They decide to invite two companies in to take the process further: WHOPEE Analytics and YIPEE, LLC. Lawyers start circling.
- The IT Oversight Subcommittee of the Legislative Money Oversight Committee demands a role in the process and decrees regular status updates. Future status updates will be provided, but no one will understand them because they don’t know math, but that will not stop them from pretending they know what they are doing.
- WHOPEE AND YIPEE salesmen assure the state that the problems can be fixed and they have the juice to fix them. When asked how much it will cost, their answer is it depends, but they can get started for a cool $50 million.
- After exhaustive review committee and legal reviews, the state decides to award the contract to WHOPEE. Hopefully there are no conflicts of interest with committee members or legislators, and no uncovering of any junkets paid by WHOPEE, or promises of any kickbacks. After all, there are rules.
- Now they get down to business. The state calls for a stakeholder meeting where at least three dozen managers and their ilk get together with a WHOPEE team to develop the specs. Specs is short for specifications, which, everyone knows is critical to the process. Each stakeholder lays out what the system needs to do, and WHOPEE’s team’s initial answer is: Sure, we can do that. As the process drags on, however, it becomes apparent that the state wants the system to walk and chew gum at the same time, and WHOPEE’s answer morphs into: We can do that, but it will be an add on that will cost you more. Now the budget is $100 million.
- Now the WHOPEE team take the specs back to Baltimore, or wherever they are from, and custom make a new software system that will accommodate the specs. It is complicated, labor intensive, and proprietary. It involves math.
- The WHOPEE team comes back from Baltimore with the software for the new system and says they are ready to launch. Notification for launch goes out to the stakeholders. Praise the Lord.
- Over the weekend the WHOPEE team loads the new software into the system. On Monday morning, aka launch day, they press the button. The system crashes. WHOPEE says not to worry, this happens all the time, and they will fix it for an addition $50 million. Time goes by and it still doesn’t work.
- The state fires WHOPEE. The legislative committee calls for an investigation. WHOPEE asserts it’s not their fault. The specs were not specific enough, and they kept changing. Besides, the state owes it $150 million. The state’s lawyers say oh no we don’t. Litigation ensues.
- Meanwhile, time and money down the drain, Joe decides he can get by with the old system by enhancing it with paper forms and fax machines. There is no conversion, Praise the Lord.
Of course all the above is from the brain of a disenchanted skeptic who thinks he speaks from experience. His guess, however, is he is not the only one. He really doesn’t hate techies or people who know math. He just hates hubris. His message for the fine people of WHOPEE and YIPEE and their ilk: Under promise and over deliver. Of course, if you do that you won’t get the contract.