N.H. agency mired in data warehouse effort

The New Hampshire Department of Corrections by year’s end should complete a custom-built data warehouse project that was originally slated to be finished in October 1999 – or so hope state officials, who need the system to send restitution payments to crime victims in a more timely manner.

The corrections department has been mired in the project since early 1999, when work began as part of its Y2K compliance effort. Problems arose later that year following Computer Associates International Inc.’s acquisition of Computer Management Sciences Inc. (CMSI), the Jacksonville, Fla.-based application development and outsourcing firm that was leading the project.

In early 2000, CA restarted the project virtually from scratch, and the system wasn’t ready in time to meet the Y2K deadline, forcing the corrections department to use manual intervention when processing restitution cheques. More than two years later, the Windows NT system still isn’t running. The state has paid out US$230,000 but is withholding the rest of the US$580,000 project price tag until the work is finished.

Going Backward

“This is absolutely not acceptable,” said David Welch, a New Hampshire state representative and chairman of the criminal justice committee that oversees the Concord-based corrections department. “For all practical purposes, we never entered the 21st century [on technology]. We’ve taken it back to the 18th century, except we’re not using quill pens.”

CA had no expertise with this kind of state government system before it bought CMSI, Welch said. But neither he nor Larry Blaisdell, director of field services at the corrections department, have blamed the problematic rollout exclusively on Islandia, N.Y.-based CA.

The restitution system, which will manage the process of collecting money from criminal offenders and issuing cheques to their victims, is highly specialized. Welch noted that there was also a change in leadership at the corrections department. “Some things fell through the cracks, and there was a lack of direction for the job,” he said. “And CA didn’t follow through, either.”

Bob Dinkel, a senior vice-president at CA, said the New Hampshire state government is a big user of the company’s software. CA is committed to completing the system, Dinkel said, adding that the project has been complicated by evolutionary changes in its scope.

In addition, Dinkel said the original project team from CMSI didn’t adequately define the specifications of the system, which eventually led CA to send a new team to manage the development process.

“I believe that we had the right approach and the right design,” Blaisdell said in a written statement. He added that the corrections department “will play the hand we are dealt to the best of our abilities.”

IT staffers at the agency are now testing data in preparation for a migration from its old system to the new one, Blaisdell said. But completing the data input work and getting the new system ready could take until year’s end or beyond.

And Welch said he’s still frustrated by the tardiness of the software development work. “I understand we’re far enough into the process that you don’t throw away the baby with the bath water, but I’m not happy about it all,” he said.