Earlier, Public Eye and Strategic Thoughts reported on the direct awarding of $407,800 worth of information technology contracts to four companies. Interestingly, three of those companies - ACB Consulting, CRB Consulting and Health Information Canada Incorporated (HII) - were among the primary contractors for the controversial and now bankrupt CareNet Technology Society - this, according to a May 2004 audit. That society wasted more than $1 million in taxpayer-dollars during a failed attempt to develop a software system that would coordinate and integrate ministry and social service agency services. So we telephoned Community Living British Columbia chief executive officer Rick Mowles to ask him whether he had any concerns about using those same contractors. The following is an edited transcript of that interview.
Public Eye The CareNet project that was undertaken didn't ever reach completion. And my understanding (from reading the audit) was that the project was abandoned, in part, because the ministry had undertaken a similar project. Some I'm just wondering whether this is the same project? What's the deal.
Mr. Mowles Well, CareNet I'm not familiar with at all.
Public Eye You're familiar with the CareNet issue right?
Mr. Mowles I only know there was a multiple of agencies involved and it got tied into the Doug Walls thing. Other than that I don't know anything about it.
Public Eye Well, what does this particular project do?
Mr. Mowles Well, what we're doing with our systems - and to answer your first question - the government has systems. And, in fact, this must have been what (the audit) was talking about. They have RAP, Swiss Miss, CHIPS - and these are all jargon names for the various things that manage contracts and manage the list of individuals around the province. It's the base of information. The technology is 20 to 30 years old. I don't know the exact date. But what we're doing here is setting up an independent system that's the latest version of all that stuff. Our ability to work the model that we're setting up is about our staff having laptop computers and notebooks and being out working with and meeting people with all the information at their fingertips. So this is a total technical system. The technology is totally up-to-date. We're taking all our paper files and converting them to electronic files so a staff person in Nakusp that's talking to a family can just call up a file and all the information will be there about their son or daughter. It's all available. None of the government technology - and, for that matter, most systems - don't have the capability of doing that. We're looking at a system right now that the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority runs. So we're modelling ourselves after what they're doing over there.
Public Eye So it's sort of a file management and transfer system?
Mr. Mowles It's a service delivery management system is what it's called.
Public Eye The other question I had is that I noticed three of the companies getting direct awards were also companies that worked on the CareNet project. Given the ultimate fate of that paritcular project and how it went completely off the rails did you have any concerns about working with these companies. I mean one of them is Brian Berglund's company. And he was intimately involved with the CareNet process. So I'm just wondering whether you had any concerns about that?
Mr. Mowles Well, this whole area of technology is a small world when it comes to finding good people. And if you talk to anyone inside or outside, it's fair to say the level of expertise we need is difficult to find. The fact that these companies were working for CareNet - you know, I don't. So I can't comment on that except to say we needed people with an expertise in this particular area and we're not about to go out and find them. We had conversations with a number of organizations. We've gone through approval processes. We've posted regularly to B.C. Bid. We've been looking for other people who are working in this particular field. We've tried to find other people. But there's not a lot of people who work in this whole field who do this kind of technology work. So we're trying to find anybody. If you know of anyone...
Public Eye I'll see what I can do about that (laughter).
Mr. Mowles If you wake up next week at 5:00 in the morning...
Public Eye I might have an answer for your (laughter).
Mr. Mowles When you're building systems like this you've got to find expertise. We're doing everything we can to make sure we're as squeaky clean as we can possibly be, given the history here. But, at the same time, I have to move forward and try and completely change a system of technology. The government system is pretty old. I don't want anyone to think I'm saying anything negative about the ministry. I'm not saying that. But what I'm saying is their systems have been around a long time. And we need to move forward. And we need to be able to be in a position where our staff can do their work in a different way than what has previously been done.
Public Eye In other words, instead of having staff at various different service provider centres, you'll have staff go out to clients and deliver the service that way.
Mr. Mowles It's based on totally mobile workforce. And all the information is at their fingertips when they're working out there.