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Ctrl S – Putting BC’s Most Vulnerable at Risk; Creating Headaches for Service Providers

iStock_000026301431_Small.jpgToday, the BC Government’s Integrate Case Management (ICM) system was supposed to be fully operational after almost three weeks of failure. In fact, CWAV Society’s Horizons program was informed that ICM was to be working at 5PM Friday, May 16th but given that it is a long weekend, the Province bought itself three extra days. Not surprisingly, the system is not fixed. They now predict it will be up tomorrow. Despite the urgency of getting the system working, I won’t be surprised if we are still waiting for resolution tomorrow. And when the system is finally stable, the backlog of data to be put in will further impact service provision for weeks to come.

I’m sure British Columbians do not know the extent to which ICM is used to monitor the lives of citizens in the province. That is because the system is used to track the government’s interactions with its most vulnerable people – those whose children have come to the attention of the Ministry of Children and Family Development or those on income assistance or those who are seeking (or required to seek) employment  under the Employment Program of BC.

Child Advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says the failure of the ICM system is putting children at risk. The BC Society of Transition Houses of which CWAV Society is a member pointed out that the crash is impacting women fleeing abuse

What has not been newsworthy is the impact of the system crash on employment programs. CWAV Society’s Horizons Pre-employment Program for Women is required to use ICM to manage its clients. ICM requires extensive documentation of all activities a “case manager” undertakes with each woman including needs assessments, one-on-one meetings and workshops (Employment Support Services in the language of ICM).

When I took the ICM training (image below from training manual), I was stunned at the technology. This is a twenty year old database that I was told the province bought second hand from the US military for $182 million. Instead of the ease of use drop down menus and intuitive logic of modern databases, ICM requires memorization of the sequence of steps (and there are many of them) needed to complete a session with a client. It is time consuming – I estimate it takes three times longer than it should to complete the documentation. As well, ICM only works with older versions of Internet Explorer and Adobe Writer. If you inadvertently upgrade those programs, you need to have or have access to the technical knowledge to turn off certain features. Regularly, instead of having a SAVE button, the ICM user needs to save their work with Ctrl S.

ICM is tedious for both the case manager and the client. Because the client must sign to indicate she agrees with the information that has been input, documentation has become part of the interaction with the client. It has impacted the relationship. Like all CWAV programs, Horizons is focused on the client. The constant need to document means ICM becomes a distraction to the process.

I find it ironic that Technology Minister Andrew Wilkinson made light of the gravity of the ICM failure stating:

“Of course, as information systems roll out to replace the creaky, rusty legacy systems we inherited from the NDP, as we replace those tape drives, as we discard the punch cards — crates and crates of them — we are proud to say that our information systems evolve and are upgraded just like any other I.T.”

It’s obvious that Wilkinson has never actually used ICM. It certainly isn’t a punch card system but 20 year old technology implemented just two years ago is an unacceptably “creaky, rusty legacy system.” I think it is highly unethical to use technology that is not capable of serving the needs of vulnerable British Columbians or the people who are working with them on behalf of the Province. BC needs a made-in-BC 21st century integrated case management system. I’m pretty sure the development costs and
the misspent $180 million could be recouped quickly in increased productivity.

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