EDS defends its role in Ontario Justice IT debacle

The consulting firm that launched and recently won a multi-million dollar settlement from the Ontario government following the cancellation of a project to build a network linking the provincial judicial system says it delivered

seven out of nine initiatives that are currently up and running.

A spokesperson from EDS Canada Ltd., however, declined to specify what those initiatives were in an interview with ITBusiness.ca Wednesday.

“A significant portion of the projects were delivered on time and on budget and some of them were not,” said James Toccacelli, director of communications at EDS Canada. “There was a dispute about the ones that were not and why they were not. There’s a shared responsibility for the ones that did not. The result of that shared responsibility resulted in the settlement.”

Toccacelli’s response follows a report from The Globe and Mail Wednesday citing a settlement document it obtained through a Freedom of Information request that stated the Ontario government paid EDS Canada $63 million to settle a lawsuit. The project, which started in 1997 and was known as the Integrated Justice Project (IJP), was cancelled by the former provincial Conservative government in 2002 after the original cost estimate had more than doubled.

The settlement, which was reached on October 21, 2004, saved the government years of costly and lengthy litigation, said a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General. Brendan Crawley estimated the total cost of a four-year legal process could have cost in excess of $200 million.

“Ultimately the former Integrated Justice Project was too large, too complex and too ambitious it turned out,” said Crawley, adding that some progress was made including computer-aided dispatch and records management systems for police and the corrections officer tracking information system (OTIS). “The vision of integrated justice technology was not achieved. Some of the processes were flawed.”

For that reason, the management board secretary has been reviewing the government’s common purpose procurement guidelines with a view to reforming the way government manages large and complex technology projects to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

The project, if it had succeeded, would have provided Ontario’s correctional system, the courts, the judiciary, the prosecution service and the police with instant access to millions of files on offenders, family-law cases and civil law suits. Similar projects to IJP in other provinces, including British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, have also failed. But Toccacelli said EDS doesn’t consider this case a complete failure.

“There’s enormous public expense but there’s also enormous public benefit,” said Toccacelli. “We’re disappointed that the government chose to undertake the course of action they did but we understand. We worked very hard at trying to find the most mutually effective way of us both winding down the project.”

As part of a multi-year strategic information management and IT plan, the Ontario government is currently implementing a new civil and family court case tracking system and is starting to upgrade the existing criminal case tracking system. It’s also continuing to pilot the use of multimedia presentations, evidence and remote appearances via video in a model electronic courtroom. In partnership with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the government is also continuing to implement and expand video remand in courthouses, correctional facilities and police detachments across the province.

 “This ministry is dedicated to modernizing the court system,” said Crawley. “We will continue to work to improve technology in the courts to enable us to better serve the public, to deliver our core business and to improve the administration of justice.”

The current Ontario government recently set out a mandate that requires police forces to use a software system called Major Case Management (MCM) that collects and analyzes data about serial predators.

Court administration expert Carl Baar said he hopes the cancelled project doesn’t prevent other technology companies from getting involved in future integrated justice projects.

“The Ontario thing was a disaster and it was wrong-headed and they didn’t use sound professional judgment,” said Baar, also professor emeritus at Brock University and adjunct professor of political science at York University. “I hope that the fact they did that bad a job doesn’t discourage people in the IT business from looking at how to develop the applications that I think are going to benefit justice.”

The IJP involved a consortium of information and communication technology companies including Teranet Enterprises Inc., Fujitsu Consulting (Canada) Inc. and IBM Canada Ltd. Toccacelli said the payment was made to EDS as the lead agency with a portion of the money making its way down to other members of the consortium. Because the nature of the contract was a shared benefits contract, Toccacelli said it was complex from the moment it was signed by the consortium.

“It wasn’t a you deliver project ‘x’ and we’ll give you ‘y’ amount of dollars,” said Toccacelli. “It’s you deliver project ‘x’ and we’ll determine what benefits were from project ‘x’ and you take some and we’ll take some. As a result unwinding it was equally complex.”

Despite the project’s failure, a Toronto lawyer said the litigation bar would still be interested in electronic filing procedures. Paul Bates, partner at Cassels Brock, said while lawyers aren’t the most proficient group with technology, they aren’t the worst either. Administrative assistants and paralegals have been getting technology training in community colleges for over 10 years, Bates said. Bates himself will occasionally e-mail judges but still has to file something manually.

“The transaction cost of filing by paper are high because we have to pay for a process service per document,” he said. “It’s a paper-based methodology that has all the built-in inefficiencies and error propensities of the paper-based world.”

Bates questions the irony of a world in which many confidential documents like tax returns are filed over the Internet yet the same can’t be said for legal documents.

“Why can we file our income tax returns electronically — the most private document of great economic importance — but we can’t get a statement of claim filed electronically,” he questioned. “There’s a discrepancy of priorities that is evidenced by what I’ve just compared that also demonstrates the utility of electronic commerce in comparable things that takes place.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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