The State Worker

California state worker forecast IT system would be a ‘quagmire’

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Our latest State Worker column looks at a government IT project from the rarely-explored perspective of an employee who actually works with a troubled system.

In this case, call-center worker Ganesh Kumar warned Department of Consumer Affairs’ officials that the BreEZe system would be anything but a breeze, shortly before the program went live in the fall of 2013.

The paperless web-based system was intended to make work more efficient, he wrote in a Sept. 27, 2013 email, but it appeared to be designed without consulting front-line staff like him who would have to use it at the Board of Registered Nursing’s call center: “(T)he BreEZe team had no clue of what are all the jobs we do at the call center” until Kumar gave them a list during BreEZe training.

“Voicing my concerns to my supervisors or managers does not seem to help much because there (sic) just following directions and orders,” he wrote in the email to then-Consumer Affairs Secretary Denise Brown and her boss, Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency Secretary Anna Caballero.

In response, the board assured Kumar that although the BreEZe launch might be bumpy, the vendor, Accenture LPC, was on top of it.

“By relying on subject matter experts (SMEs), formal project management methodology, and holding the vendor to their contractual obligations, the DCA believes it is in a position to successfully launch the BreEZe system,” the unsigned email reply stated.

Since then, the project has had myriad problems, although some have been fixed. It was originally estimated to cost $28 million. So far, Consumer Affairs has spent $37 million. and faces contractual obligations to pay up to $86 million more. In order to reassess the project, the department worked out an $17.5 million exit agreement that cuts ties with Accenture at the end of this year, but the Legislature wants to hold hearings before allocating the money.

Consumer Affairs says the delay will trigger provisions in the current contract that allow Accenture to bill up to $2 million per month for 43 months, even if it does no more BreEZe work.

Here’s Kumar‘s prophetic email with the subject line, “BreEZe – A QUAGMIRE,” and the board’s response.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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