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Software The Almighty Buck

Open Source Could Have Saved Ontario Hundreds of Millions 294

Posted by Soulskill
from the proprietary-pocket-change dept.
Platinum Dragon writes "Ontario's auditor-general released a blistering report this week detailing how successive governments threw away a billion dollars developing an integrated electronic medical record system. This CBC article highlights an open source system developed at McMaster University that is already used by hundreds of doctors in Ontario. As one of the developers points out, 'we don't have very high-priced executives and consultants,' some of whom cost Ontario taxpayers $2,700 per day." The McMaster University researchers claim their system could be rolled out for two percent of the billion-dollars-plus already spent on the project. The report itself (PDF) also makes note of the excessive consultation spending: "By 2008, the Ministry’s eHealth Program Branch had fewer than 30 full-time employees but was engaging more than 300 consultants, a number of whom held senior management positions."
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Open Source Could Have Saved Ontario Hundreds of Millions

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  • by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Saturday October 10, 2009 @12:18AM (#29701515)

    Government at its finest!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      This one's been a classic example of government at work. From dubiously awarded contracts and an unusually early bonus, both which contributed to the resignation (firing) of the head of eHealth, to the boondoggle in the article. This thing has been mismanaged from the get-go and it's reflecting pretty poorly on the premier and government.

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Saturday October 10, 2009 @12:54AM (#29701611)

      Unfortunately, the corporate world works exactly the same way. Given a choice between a solution that's reasonably priced, and a hideously expensive solution that involves shady consulting companies, 9 out of 10 Fortune 500 companies will pass the buck on to an overpriced consulting firm, which recommends (surprise!) the overpriced consulting solution.

      • by jlarocco (851450) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @01:18AM (#29701667) Homepage

        No, it's not unfortunate. When I give money to a corporation in exchange for a product, my expectations for the money I end there. I get the item I paid for, and they get the money. If they want to spend the money on hookers and blow, I don't give a shit. There's no expectation that they'll spend the money in any particular way. It's a completely voluntary transaction.

        That's not the case with the government. The government isn't selling a product. Taxes aren't voluntary. There's an expectation that tax money will be spent in a way that benefits everybody. That's the only reason we allow the government to take the money from us in the first place.

        When a corporation spends money foolishly you can shop somewhere else or quit or whatever. When the government does it you're just screwed.

        • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Saturday October 10, 2009 @01:30AM (#29701709)

          That's not the case if large portions of the economy are controlled by corporations that are all doing that. In theory, it might be possible for me to live and eat without ever dealing with a major corporation, but in practice it's nearly impossible to do. If anything, I see taxation by government as much preferable to de-facto taxation by corporations, since at least I have a vote in the former, and the sums are usually lower.

        • by Requiem18th (742389) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @01:44AM (#29701773)

          Not quite so, while paying to corporations might not seem compulsory like taxes are, in many ways they are. Food for example, we all need it. It is as mandatory as taxes. Yes, with corporations you get an array of options, but the cheapest provider may still being overcharging. With government you can get an even cheaper, if not optimal price, because you have power over it. The government is like a corporation we all own.

          What is the alternative? No government spending on public health? What about the fire department? Wouldn't a corporation handle it better? What about roads? What about national defense? What about the police? Should we recur to corporations for a judicial system?

          If you say "no", as I hope, then you agree with government spending, we just have to figure out the bugs, because while you must pay taxes to the government, the government give you legislative representation in return, if your representation fails you that's where the problem is.

          Saying the government is the problem is not constructive, because getting rid of the government is not the solution, fixing the government is the solution. It might be that a given service is not best served by the government at some point, that doesn't invalidate the idea of a government.

          • by jabithew (1340853) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @04:20AM (#29702185)

            But the government tends to ignore its voters for the most part. A private company ignores its customers at its peril. I think this is the key difference; a company owes its survival to you. The government can ride roughshod over you with no serious consequences for it.

            If the cheapest provider is over-charging, then new providers will enter the market and under-cut it for more profit. Unless perhaps you're one of the people who think that profit is over-charging, in which case I suggest you read Adam Smith.

            Private sector roads aren't that far out, after all the industrial road network of the UK was built privately (as were the canals and the railways; people have short memories here).

            Getting rid of government is not the same as shrinking government where government is in sectors which could be better run privately. Getting rid of government entirely is a ridiculous straw-man which adds nothing to the debate.

            • why is it that any sector could be better run privately? Please don't take this as an attack because I don't mean it as one, but I don't understand how a for-profit operation can be more efficient than a government one, assuming that we hold our governments accountable for their actions with our votes.
              • by jimicus (737525)

                Most people don't use "value for money" when they're deciding who to vote for.

                They might use "lowest taxes", or they might use "best services" as criteria (and hence it's these things that politicians tend to cater for in their campaigns) but it is most unusual for a party to assume power on a platform of "We've done some research and we're pretty sure we can provide far more efficient services and deliver tax cuts into the bargain".

                Watch "Yes, minister" for an idea as to why this may be the case....

              • by sFurbo (1361249) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @09:30AM (#29703103)
                The short answer is competition. If the customers can take their business elsewhere if they are not pleased with the service or price, there is a real incentive for doing things better or cheaper, even if there is some discomfort for the individual in doing this (working harder, having to fire a colleague). Now, you assume we hold our government accountable for their actions, but in general, the government is to complex for that to work optimally. If one party will mismanage the schools, one will mismanage the public transportation, and one will mismanage healthcare, how do you hold them accountable?

                That being said, the public sector tends to become much more effective when they get real competition, ie. when there is a real possibility that they will lose some of their budget if a private company can do the job cheaper or better. The problem with that is that the quality of most of the things government does is extremely hard to quantify, so you risk ending up with private companies doing a second rate job, but being able to tick all the boxes showing that they do a first rate job.
            • by Dragonslicer (991472) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @08:14AM (#29702789)

              A private company ignores its customers at its peril.

              Really? Most large corporations ignore their customers all the time, and they aren't in any peril. Besides, elected representatives should be in the exact same peril of being voted out if they ignore their constituents.

              Unless you meant the Castle Anthrax definition of peril.

            • Private sector roads aren't that far out, after all the industrial road network of the UK was built privately (as were the canals and the railways; people have short memories here).

              More recently, the nationalised railways were privatised back out. That made things worse.
              The economy of South Wales continually carries around its neck the millstone of having a toll bridge cutting it off from the rest of the country.
              And, for a healthy dose of irony, the cross-continental railway line in the US was built entirel

            • by quanticle (843097) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @06:45PM (#29706663) Homepage

              A private company ignores its customers at its peril.

              Only when that corporation has competition. If I have a monopoly on a good that has a highly inelastic demand curve (e.g. food, communications, heating oil, medicine, etc.) I can be as big of a jerk to my customers, and they'll have no choice but to take it. In fact, I can be an even bigger jerk than the government, because, in the case of the government, the people have the choice of voting me out when my term ends. In the case of a corporation, there's no such recourse. Heck, a corporation doesn't even have to accept petitions from its citizens, which is something that the US government is constitutionally required to do.

          • With government you can get an even cheaper, if not optimal price,

            That is not the experience in the UK - with government you get massive empire building, a random definition of quality (might be high or low, but no choice) and the price rises each year regardless of external factors.

            My view: it is the role of government to steer the ship of state - not to row it (Labour) or let it go which ever way the wind blows (Conservative).

        • What if you are a shareholder?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bert64 (520050)

          The problem is when corporations get so big that they have undue influence over the government...

          If there was a fair procurement process for government contracts, like there's supposed to be, such that anyone could bid and the best option wins... This wouldn't be a problem, if one corporation pisses the government money up the wall and does a poor job they lose the contract and it goes to someone better...
          The trouble is, we have corrupt bloated corporations bribing a corrupt bloated government so that milli

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mcrbids (148650)

        Every day, however, I see the opposite effect.

        Yes, I'm part of a private company. We provide software services in education. And we routinely provide software that is significantly less expensive than other solutions, while being more comprehensive, integrated, and (usually) easier to use. Sure, sometimes people pick solutions based on risk abatement rather than fitness for the task, but this is by no means a certainty, even if this reality is unpopular.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Tablizer (95088)

        Unfortunately, the corporate world works exactly the same way [wasteful like gov't].

        I've worked on wasteful projects in big *private* companies also. For example, on one contract for a huge telecom, they had a team of 10 write different combinations of the same variables/factors for reports to study anomalous billing patterns. It was obvious to those of us with more experience that some meta-programming could have allowed the combinations to mostly be mere parameter changes instead of hundreds of reports wi

    • Your subject line and comment were too repetitive!

    • by chrb (1083577)

      Doesn't a major part of the funding for McMaster University also come from the government?

  • by Cruciform (42896) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @12:23AM (#29701529) Homepage

    I worked (through a contract company) at the Ontario Ministry of Health during the Y2K crunch, doing upgrades and support, handling a small team of guys.
    It was a decent place to work, but the waste is incredible. We were getting paid 18 to 20 bucks an hour, but the companies handling us were either 2 or 3 deep. And each one took a cut.
    One overheard phone call indicated that the top company in the food chain was getting over a hundred dollars an hour for some of us.
    And another guy who was getting paid directly was whining on the phone about only making 125 dollars an hour managing the operation... though none of us ever saw him lift a finger to actually manage anything. The managers we reported to were great though.
    So the contract companies took way too much money. That was issue number one.
    The other was that for the amount of cubicles they had filled, it sure didn't seem like there was enough work to keep everyone busy. And as government employees they get good pay and LOTS of vacation.
    And some people were getting paid WAAAY too much for what they were doing at work. Nothing like finding gigabytes of japanese teenagers pissing on things, and bestiality porn on a directors computer.
    They must have buried that little discovery because when I Googled him last he was still working there.

    Of course, on the plus side, since I was one of the more experienced guys I tended to stick by the phone to manage and support the other team members, and got to read Slashdot all day between phone calls and running down to help when one of the guys ran into trouble.

    I wonder if I could get back on there.... :)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 10, 2009 @01:42AM (#29701755)

      The project was a horribly mismanaged flop, and open source wouldn't have saved it. The problem was with the management, not the coding. An open source project with that management would still have lost the same amount of money.

      Hell, people were being paid thousands just to stay on call, doing no work. How does open source fix that? It doesn't.

      Loved the article's assumed correlation of open source and lower cost though...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tomhudson (43916)

        The same mindset that would have allowed for open source would have allowed for other "breaking the government waste" pattern activities.

        Why buy and maintain MS-Office licenses when there's a better, free, alternative? Teh "Because ..." mentality.

        • by jimicus (737525) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @06:15AM (#29702457)

          The same mindset that would have allowed for open source would have allowed for other "breaking the government waste" pattern activities.

          Why buy and maintain MS-Office licenses when there's a better, free, alternative? Teh "Because ..." mentality.

          I'm having exactly this conversation at work right now - and the economic climate means it's a much easier conversation for me than it was 2 years ago. However, it goes something like this:

          Me: Yes, could roll out Open Office to everyone. No problem. And it's free.
          PHB: Good, so what do we need to consider in terms of compatibility?
          Me: You'll see 95-98% MS Office compatibility easily. Of course, if you want 99-100% compatibility with MS Office, it's going to have to be MS Office. This is true for all office suites - hell, it's true between different versions of Office.
          PHB: Right, so anyone who deals with outside organisations on a regular basis needs MS Office.
          Me: Well, you could exchange PDFs...
          PHB: Anyone who deals with outside organisations on a regular basis needs MS Office. Who else?
          Me: Okay.... well, you need to consider if less than 100% compatibility with existing files is a problem. Things like spreadsheets, big fancy documents...
          PHB: Spreadsheets? OK, so the finance people need MS Office. Any others?
          Me: Well, engineering say that having to deal with different formats internally will be a PITA...
          PHB: So we get MS Office for the engineers....
          Me: Right, you do realise that there's only one license being saved now?

      • by gbjbaanb (229885)

        True, an OSS project *with that management* would have still been a disaster. The thing is, if it was an OSS project there would have been a lot less gravy floating around for the consultants, and that in itself would have meant better management.

        If you have too much of something, you don't tend to take as much care of it then if you have a little. I waste water all the time - shower, cook, drink - it just comes out of the taps. Except the day the pipes burst and it stopped. Then my water usage was much mor

  • by xzvf (924443) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @12:32AM (#29701555)
    Who would have taken the politicians and IT management out for steak dinners if they would have used open source? How about the pretty power point presentations for board meetings. Don't forget the political games that had to be played between parties and in the office. Seriously, I've seen time and again when free or open source software has saved money and been a better technical solution. As a high paid consultant myself, I recommend free or open source solutions first, and only move proprietary when I have to. To make a government job work, you have to grease the wheels and pay a little politics (I meant to type play, but this seemed more apt). Any IT job is 80% politics and 20% work, that's why soft skills are so valued in the job market.
    • by moosesocks (264553) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @01:16AM (#29701659) Homepage

      Hm. I can't actually tell whether or not the Open Source solution actually would have been applicable in this situation. All the article states is that an open-source medical record system exists, and is used by a handful of doctors in Canada.

      What is blindingly clear, on the other hand, is that the $1bn contract was horribly, horribly mismanaged.

      Also don't forget that somebody had to pay for the open-source system to be developed. I somewhat doubt that anybody spends their spare time hacking away on electronic health record databases.

      Barring any re-use or re-adaptation of code that might have been done by the open-source devs, the license under which the software is released would appear to be inconsequential. One of two things might have happened:

      1) Ontario specified a bloody complicated piece of software to be written, which was far more sophisticated than the existing open-source solution. In other words, the cost (though high) may have been justified.

      2) The open source solution was indeed adequate for Ontario's needs, and the contractor was corrupt/incompetent.

      • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @03:44AM (#29702107) Journal

        Also don't forget that somebody had to pay for the open-source system to be developed. I somewhat doubt that anybody spends their spare time hacking away on electronic health record databases.

        Hey now - I did! :)

        This was in the UK and I no longer work in the NHS. But in Primary Care (i.e. your local doctor's, not a hospital), there are a handful of providers of medical systems with a couple of really big ones (EMIS and Synergy). I have a lot of experience with Synergy and quite frankly, it's a mess. I think it got a little better, but in the modern age we could do so very much better. And it wouldn't actually take much developer resource to come up with it. I noodled around with writing an alternative one, but I simply couldn't dedicate the time. But it would have taken a small team of decent programmers (maybe four of us) around a year to make a functionally equivalent system that did the job better, was open source and a good platform on which to build further. And I could have written conversion tools for the back end databases myself fairly easily. The issues are twofold. Firstly, the perceived hassle of migrating to a new system and secondly getting the license from the UK's Department of Health. The latter would have been the showstopper. It's a Boy's Club. There are a lot of very hard-working people at the low levels of the NHS and - under Labour - quite a lot of over-spend and corruption at the top. Particularly in the area of IT.

        I'm no longer in the NHS. I got fed up with the problems I had to deal with being caused at a level above where I could fix them. I would love to manage the development of an open source alternative to the existing systems though and I could do it for a tiny fraction of the budget allocated to other NHS IT projects - a sort of skunk works project.

        Unfortunately, the New Labour government has been determined to do everything it can to privatise the NHS without committing the political suicide of admitting they're doing so. The damage behind the scenes to British healthcare is enormous.

      • I somewhat doubt that anybody spends their spare time hacking away on electronic health record databases.

        So hacking away at some obscure thing that no-one apart from themselves use is perfectly reasonable, but hacking away at something you think would be able to improve the world is completely unlikely?

        I suppose no-one would want to work on making a completely open (source, design) and free (charge and speech) electronic voting system either - I mean, it's not like you can show up at a voting booth with you

        • No-one should use computers for voting. Only a small percentage of the population groks them well enough to audit them. Everyone understands pencil and paper.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)

        Also don't forget that somebody had to pay for the open-source system to be developed. I somewhat doubt that anybody spends their spare time hacking away on electronic health record databases.

        Someone had to pay for it to be written, and someone has to pay for it to be maintained, but no on has to pay for copies, which is rather the point of open source. Remember, this is a one billion dollar project. The two percent of one billion is twenty million dollars. That buys a lot of improvements to an open source project if it doesn't already do what you need.

        The same logic applies to things like OpenOffice.org; if it doesn't exactly do what you need it to do, will it if you invest what you curre

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by happyslayer (750738)

          The same logic applies to things like OpenOffice.org; if it doesn't exactly do what you need it to do, will it if you invest what you currently spend in a year on MS Office licenses?

          Exactly what I did with an EMR that I built for a client: I used OpenOffice and another OSS API to produce custom documents on the fly: Medical records, records requests, discharge letters, etc.

          Even better, they could be updated just like any other OO document. "Hey, we need the discharge letter to include this information." "No problem". Open-->Type changes-->Save. Done.

          The actual cost was about 10 hours of my time finding the other OSS system and integrating it with our health records system.

  • by thatkid_2002 (1529917) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @12:34AM (#29701559)
    In Australia there is the same situation. The NEHTA is spending many millions.

    Full Disclosure: I work in NEHTA as a contractor.

    It is fair enough for a whole lot of Slashdot code cowboys to say "we could code the whole thing in a few months for the price of rent, pizza, internet and beer." but it really isn't as simple as whipping up some sort of web based app that talks to a central repository.

    There is a whole lot of clinical systems that need to hooked together at various levels of government and private healthcare and medical records organizations. All these need to have extremely secure and have fine grained access control and to have flexible information formatting so that existing records can be imported, exported and exchanged between different systems. The platform needs to be easily scalable, easily usable, have crystal clear terminology etc. and a lot of those things require expensive consultants from their respective areas, and over the course of the project there might be a need to totally reworked because X organization was not happy with the system. Consultants cost money, and that is on top of normal costs for equipment for the organization and rental of offices in each state.

    Developing an eHealth system costs money. End of story. At the end of the day it is better to roll out a eHealth system that is secure, reliable and well integrated than a system that is unreliable, unsecure and convoluted.

    I also want to add that you Americans have the weirdest ideals about healthcare. ARE YOU FREAKING CRAZY!!!

    • by Cruciform (42896) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @01:56AM (#29701801) Homepage

      Do not antagonize the crazy Americans. They may send you Celine Dion.
      It took us decades to get rid of her.

      Signed,
      Canada

    • by FireFury03 (653718) <slashdot&nexusuk,org> on Saturday October 10, 2009 @04:54AM (#29702259) Homepage

      Developing an eHealth system costs money. End of story. At the end of the day it is better to roll out a eHealth system that is secure, reliable and well integrated than a system that is unreliable, unsecure and convoluted.

      Here in the UK, the government has been putting billions into the NHS computer systems. From talking to people who work with them, the consultants responsible basically have no clue about PKI, so there goes your security. As for being reliable and well integrated, experience of past (very expensive) government IT projects makes me doubt that this is likely too.

      At the end of the day, the government goes to one of the really big 2 or 3 IT companies to develop a system (I'm talking about you, EDS, Capita, etc.), get quoted a crazy amount of money, accept the quote and then watch as the whole thing becomes a disaster and goes many times over budget. Then when the next IT project comes up they go back to exactly the same company. It is true that there are a limited number of huge IT companies to choose from, but many of the IT projects could be done just fine by smaller companies, and wouldn't cost the earth, with the advantage that supporting small businesses is a Good Thing for the economy. However, the government won't use small businesses to do these jobs because doing so is seen as high risk - personally, I don't see how you can get much higher risk than using one of the big companies that seem to have a 100% record of screwing up projects. Hell, for the amount these big companies get paid, you could probably get 4 or 5 small companies doing exactly the same job as each other and then actually roll out the project that looks the most likely to succeed.

    • You are missing the point that a proven open source solution already existed. It was already in use.

  • by cygtoad (619016) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @12:42AM (#29701581)
    ...that is just insane. It is no wonder they have issues.

    I currently work on and EMR for a health system and I can tell you that they are incredibly complex animals. The workflows in healthcare are complex. Successfully writing interfaces to and from these systems is near impossible (namely pharmacy systems). The best you can do is try to get a central homogenous vendor with good modules which use the same database. You need low turnover to establish and maintain EMR's and while consultants can be handy, that ratio should be flipped.

    At any rate I am not dogging the McMaster's work, but there is a huge disparity between products out there. It is a little presumptous to say theirs would have been an alternative to save millions. It really has to do with the mission and the product features.

    This seems to me to be just one botched project, or more likely doomed from the start.
    • by mikelieman (35628)

      Or you could deploy the VAs VistA system.

    • by hey! (33014)

      Consultants aren't necessarily highly paid fat cats. Often they're low paid wage slaves who are "consultants" in that the employer doesn't want to treat them with the consideration that civilized society demands of employers.

      I think you put your finger on an important point though: often *quality* is a more economical choice than *inexpensive*. The key is this: how long are you going to live with whatever you're paying for? We recently bought new windows for our house. We could go anything from under

  • Consultants that say what must be done is not open source. They could suggest open source products that fits in some or even all of the requirements of the system, but they still have to get paid, that would not be saved (of course, that for every penny won by a consultant some share goes to the one that hired or recommended him is another topic).

    But the system could have ended in open source. If they had to develop a new solutions or integrate existing ones, that was done with the money of the taxpayers an
  • Is there an open source software that does something pretty close to what they spent a pile of money building a custom solution for? Apparently there is.

    Is the open source solution close enough to the needs of the Ontario government that, as the article alleges, all you need to do is buy some servers and set it up and there are negligible other costs? I seriously doubt it. I would be willing to bet heavily against it. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably hasn't spent much time developing software for go

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AK Marc (707885)
      No, it doesn't oversimplify. It says that the open source solution would have been cheaper, not free. You are making up things that aren't true, then proving them false. And if you've ever done anything like this before, you know that the closed versions take tons of customization, otherwise how would they have already spent so much?
      • No, it doesn't oversimplify. It says that the open source solution would have been cheaper, not free. You are making up things that aren't true, then proving them false

        The article doesn't say free, and neither did I. It does say that they basically only need to pay for the hardware and some support staff (as in, the billion dollars spent on custom development goes away), and so did I.

    • by petrus4 (213815)

      Is the open source solution close enough to the needs of the Ontario government that, as the article alleges, all you need to do is buy some servers and set it up and there are negligible other costs? I seriously doubt it. I would be willing to bet heavily against it. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably hasn't spent much time developing software for government.

      I haven't, no...but what are said needs?

      I'm assuming that the main component of a record system is going to be a database [postgresql.org]. You'll also need a usable [php.net] system [apache.org] and interface [getfirefox.com] for entering and retrieving said records into the DB. You're also going to want to do SQL dumps and periodic offsite backups [zmanda.com], so that if anything goes wrong, you can get the data back.

      Of course, it will also be very important to ensure that the operating system [freebsd.org] the database is hosted on, is as robust as possible, to minimise the possibili

      • by abigsmurf (919188)
        Just because you can describe a system doesn't make it easy to design or implement. You basically just said "It's simple! Just put a SQL backed php application on a server and back it up! Make sure it's good too!".
        • by petrus4 (213815)

          Just because you can describe a system doesn't make it easy to design or implement. You basically just said "It's simple! Just put a SQL backed php application on a server and back it up! Make sure it's good too!".

          How did I know I was going to get this sort of response?

          You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't. If I respond to people abusively, I get called a troll and accused of producing flamebait. Yet if I try and write something positive and constructive, I get some small minded, brainless insect like you responding to me. Responding constantly to people about how something *can't* be done, is not useful.

          • It is and it isn't simple. There is a lot of work that would have to go into making a secure hospital system particularly with the amount of wireless being brought into play now. And layer 2 security is not enough to get it done.

            I agree, though, that the solutions are usually far less complex than people trying to make a ton of $ make them out to be. And companies and governments would probably save buttloads of money on IT if they stopped trying to place blame when shit hits the fan.

            This is a problem we ha
      • No offense, but you're basically responding to something that isn't really my point at all.

        According to the article, Ontario needed a medical tracking system, and there exists an open source system which does that. At this point we're not talking about the firewalls and stuff around that, we're just trying to solve that central problem.

        Where the article and I disagree is that it suggests "Hey, we want X, there's a system for X, we'll just install that and we're done! $Billion saved!"

        Whereas I'm saying "Th

  • by XB-70 (812342) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @01:37AM (#29701735)
    I have had meetings with senior bureaucrats and politicians in Ontario about FOSS. Moving free software into the government sphere is really difficult. Firstly, the biggest fear is change. If you implement a change which impacts 60,000 employees, if there is a problem, the person who made the decision to change software will be 'implicated' and blamed etc. etc. No one wants to stick their necks out.

    The only way to counteract the problem is if you get backing at a very high level (from the Premier and his Cabinet). During the late '90s all the ministries had to convert and conform to one accounting standard. The push-back from all levels was incredible. It was only because people were threatened with being fired that the project got enough traction to be implemented.

    This is what Open Source software is up against. It's truly brutal. That said, never give up fighting, but it has to be done at the highest levels.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by petrus4 (213815)

      This is what Open Source software is up against. It's truly brutal. That said, never give up fighting, but it has to be done at the highest levels.

      From the sounds of things, trying to do it at the highest levels, is exactly the *wrong* way to go about it.

      UNIX was originally developed, so the story goes, with a couple of PDP-11s in an abandoned corner somewhere. Cheap, low profile, inconspicuous.

      Likewise, if you're a sysadmin trying to get FOSS in the door, don't make a big noise about it. Go to a garage sale on the weekend, or a used electronics place, and buy a $200-$300 headless 3 ghz box, and then install FreeBSD on it at home over the weekend.

  • by etherlad (410990) <ianwatson&gmail,com> on Saturday October 10, 2009 @01:38AM (#29701743) Homepage

    ... so I'm getting a real kick out of these replies.

    Seriously, back in 2002 I was working at HHS, of which McMaster is a part. The pilot project I was on was looking for a solution to push out to relevant departments all over southern Ontario. It was a mess of completely unrelated databases and paper files. I remember looking at Oscar as a possible solution, and I was ooing and aaahing over it. Don't remember the details now, but it was really elegant and did everything it was supposed to be doing. I can only imagine what it looks like now, eight years later. I recommended it heartily to my superiors. Don't know what they did with it, if anything, once my contract ran out.

    Good on ya, Mac!

    • Open Source is not interesting for a consultancy.

      If they code up some wedgeware between an Open Source project and the client, that's the end of project revenue for them. If, instead, they code the whole show from scratch, guess who makes money on the maintenance?

      The name of the game is *always* about what makes most money for the consulting company, and how they can hang on to the available budget. Only if the CLIENT specifies what has to be supplied you can get Open Source involved, but if you're capabl

  • And here's why (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeian (409916) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @03:01AM (#29701979)

    Stolen from the comments section of the article:

    ---
    Can CBC please do some research on eHealth? This article clearly misleads by confusing an EMR (Electronic Medical Record) with an integrated EHR (Electronic Health Record). OSCAR is an EMR, not an EHR. Apples and oranges as they say.

    eHealth Ontario is primarily concerned with developing an iEHR. An EHR is a whole 'nother thing and is a much bigger and way more challenging part of the overall eHealth problem. There are plenty of EMRs around of which OSCAR is only one option.

    To put things in perspective, it would be very useful for CBC and others to read this overview from Canada Health Infoway...

    http://www2.infoway-inforoute.ca/Documents/Vision_2015_Advancing_Canadas_next_generation_of_healthcare%5B1%5D.pdf [infoway-inforoute.ca]

    This document will clarify that an integrated EHR infostructure is the problem that eHealth Ontario has been struggling to provide. While EMR is a part of the solution, it really is a much smaller element and a non-issue for Ontario.

    Dr Chan should know this but I suppose he is enamoured with his 'baby' and assumes that EMR solves all eHealth problems. Perhaps he disagrees with the Registry-centric iEHR model that Canada Health Infoway has selected over the alternative of an Information Sharing architecture (that favours EMRs). That train, however, has left the station and all provinces are already deeply committed to the CHI approach.

    CBC seems more interested in digging up dirt than providing clarity. I suggest a little more integrity and accuracy and a little less innuendo and inflamatory reportng is in order.
    --

  • I've observed first-hand how ridiculous (publicly funded institution) spending is, in Ontario, and this does not surprise me in the least.

    I used to work at a certain university in downtown Toronto. Rather than giving this task to their already 100+ employees (who usually had very little to do anyway) with CS or related degrees, they opted to hire 20+ external consultants at a rate of ~ $100,000 CAD / year (for a couple of years at least) to 'integrate' some proprietary 3rd-party product (ahem ... PeopleSoft

    • by Baron_Yam (643147)

      Liability. Yep, dealt with that in government before as a contractor for an Ontario ministry. At least I got to do some work, even if it probably wasn't done in the most effective way.

      1) Let's hire a consultant to study this for six months and create a report that tells us what I already know I want to do.
      2) Let's hire contractors to do any actual work instead of using staff.

      Oh, and don't forget 1a... don't actually consult with the internal systems people or the users, since they might point out that the

  • I work in IT for another government in Canada. On a smaller scale, we see this kind of thing too.

    Politicians simply don't understand IT. Neither does senior management. They understand stuff like "strategic vision", which roughly means a glossy report full of lots of charts showing amazing things with absolutely no detail about how its going to work.

    If the same group of politicians/senior managers have a strong IT staff below them to sort out the truth from the crap, do the integration, and support things a

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