Thursday, January 2, 2014

MNsure raises points about state IT systems

MNsure's website problems have brought lot's of attention to the agency.  Many million's of your dollars have been spent to set up the agency and web portal.  But is it really the problem of MNsure or is it how the State of Minnesota organizes, processes, and builds it's information technology systems.

How much does state government spend on providing and setting up computer information services?  My educated guess for a biennium is at least $600 million. My number may be low per a Minnesota House of Representatives Report done in 1996 which stated $200 million a year was spent on information technology.

MNsure is not the only state agency or department alone in having computer technology problems.

One just has to go to the Legislative Auditor's website and with the help of their staff they can direct you to the reports that promised the tech goods for delivery of service, but ended up as being broken promises and cost overruns.

I remember the well known "MAXIS" computer tech failure just over twenty years ago with the Department of Human Services.  MAXIS was characterized as a "computerized megasystem" with a cost overrun of millions and millions of public dollars.

Commissioner Jesson has publicly commented that maybe the wrong vendor or vendors were picked for the market health exchange.  But the questions for the public is how were the vendors selected and who selected them?  Was it done with the lowest bid or done with the group that is most competent to set up such an adventure?  These broad questions are not just for MNsure, but also for the whole info technology process of the state that spends our hard earned tax dollars

Is the state agency responsible for overall development of IT services to be held blameless for MNsure problems?  Does MNsure type problems happen with other agencies?

I end with a quote from the Washington Post story that I read which gave me the idea for this post. The quote is about the Federal health exchange which had similar problems as MNsure. 

"The episode is all too typical of how government creates IT services," said Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs, the research arm of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for more government transparency. "The procurement process tends to select for firms that are good at navigating the procurement process, not providing good IT services for the dollar."

Was this the case for MNsure?  How much does the quote characterize Minnesota's information technology contracting/procurement processes?

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