Monday, May 21, 2001

Attempt to computerize fails

$1.7M spent trying to link Ohio regulatory boards' records

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The computer licensing project for the state's regulatory boards has been shut down after more than two years and a $1.7 million investment.

        The system would have integrated licensing, enforcement and continuing-education data kept by Ohio's 21 regulatory boards, ranging from the Medical Board to the Sanitarian Registration Board.

        The project was canceled because of a lack of progress, said Donald Bishop, the Department of Administrative Services official recently put in charge of the project.

        “When you have an IT (information technology) project that turns into a challenge, one of the major difficulties is do you protect the investment you have so far?” Mr. Bishop said. “One of the dangers is you try for too long. I'm convinced, for a number of reasons, that we're doing the right thing, even though I hate to lose money because I'm a taxpayer like everyone else.”

        Charles Rubin, president of System Automation Corp., said he was shocked the state had decided to scrap his company's system, called License 2000.

        “The state is making a big mistake,” Mr. Rubin said from his office in Calverton, Md. “They've spent a lot of money, and I'm extremely confident in saying they would have been extremely pleased with the product that they had customized.”

        Mr. Bishop said Mr. Rubin requested as recently as last Monday an additional $314,000 to complete the project. Mr. Bishop said he took the proposal to regulatory board officials, but they rejected it.

        Board officials said they were frustrated Mr. Bishop's predecessors did not heed their warnings early on that System Automation was not delivering on its promises.

        After talking for more than two years about integrating the boards' licensing data, Administrative Services officials obtained a special Year 2000 waiver that allowed them to award System Automation an unbid $1.5 million contract in December 1998. The contract called for the system to be in place by Dec. 31, 1999, to avert a potential Y2K meltdown.

        Company and state officials blame one another for missing that and subsequent deadlines. Last month, the state dismissed Thomas Betts, a consultant, after paying him $404,437 to manage the project.

        Mr. Rubin said the state has paid his company $671,910 for License 2000 but still owes $666,595 for work already done.

        Mr. Bishop disputes that contention, and he said he has referred the matter to the department's legal counsel. He also said he hopes to develop an in-house computer system as a substitute for License 2000.


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