by Mike Masnick

Canadians Decide To Force More People To Use Big, Slow, Annoying Computer System

from the fallacy-of-sunk-costs dept

We've had plenty of reports of bungled government computing projects, that always seem over-budget, slow, difficult to use and rarely do the job they're supposed to do. There was the system for the (irony alert) Federal Technology Service that took 15 steps to save a document and made people cry "hourly." Then, of course, there was the famed FBI computing system that was tremendously over-budget and useless at fighting terrorism, which was eventually scrapped. It appears that up in Canada, they have their own incredibly over-budget government computing system, but they seem pretty determined not to have to scrap it. Instead, even though the system is described as "slow, clumsy and difficult to use" they're now going to make it mandatory for government agencies to use. On the positive side, part of the reason that the system is having trouble is that the security is apparently somewhat advanced (at least according to the article). However, when the system is so cumbersome and annoying to use (no matter how good the security is), all you're doing is begging people to find workarounds. Forcing uptake by mandating usage by departments won't change that -- it will just make things more annoying, and the workarounds even more questionable. It's great that the system is supposedly quite secure, but in making it slow and annoying, you're actually decreasing the security by ensuring people look for alternatives. Instead of fretting about the below expected "take up rates," and thinking up ways to push those rates higher, shouldn't they be looking at why no one likes to use the system? Even worse, by mandating that everyone use the system, it pretty much guarantees that things won't get any better, because there will be no incentive to actually improve the system or to create a better, more efficient and more useful system instead.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Sohrab, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 3:26am

    Better slow and secure then vigilant and "oh shit, virus"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    mikael, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 4:28am

    maybe govement should stick to paper systems

    just a thought they cant seem to make there own computer system so why not go back to something that at least worked.
    or get a third party involved that knows computer security and ease of use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Dan, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 4:57am

    Payolla rulez

    They picked the wrong contractor... The Contractor decided to Build the thing from scratch... and the Gov entities were non technical and in their "wisdom" agreed... Everyone knows that it's a ripoff... No one cares.... CGI can go to hell.... Someone should be resigning over this, but the details will never leak out so....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Overcast, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 6:03am

    Sounds like something a bit, slow annoying government would do.

    So - virus or no, security or no - nothing will get done.... lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Vincent Clement, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 6:06am

    The My Government Account (not to be confused with the My Account provided by the Canadian Revenue Agency) is already cumbersome. It utilizes the ePass system which is in no way user friendly. First thing this 'secure' system does is make sure you have cookies enabled. Why do you need cookies?

    Then it checks what version of your browser you have. Seems they have finally added Firefox 1.0.6. Seems no one is aware of Firefox - I suppose by the time Firefox3 comes out, Firefox2 will be 'supported'. Shouldn't websites be browser independent?

    You may also get a warning about needing to have the correct version of Java installed. Wonderful. Like that is not going to confuse your average user.

    While you try to get to the page you want, various warning will come up, about security, this and that. One page that may come up is the Conditions of Use page. Your choices: I Agree and I Disagree. Then if I want to access the My Account page at CRA, I have to re-enter my password. Finally, I am the page I want to be.

    Seesh, with my bank I all have to do is enter my userid and password and away we go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 6:23am

    Lets just hope when the technological generation begins it's transition into power we actually do something better than our predecessors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Duane M. Navarre, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 6:24am

    Easy fix for them

    They could use a linux cluster, and several IPCop
    boxes for VPN access, and setup SecureLinux as
    developed by the NSA.

    Its all free, and it all works right now.

    No rocket science, no extreme feat of engineering.

    It just friggin works.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    TW Burger, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 6:47am

    Re: Easy fix for them

    Yes, you're right. It's proven, efficient, documented, secure, relatively easy to use and free. Uh-oh, free, that's a problem. When you have billions in tax payer's dollars to spend free is no good. I am a systems analyst and have worked for the Canadian federal government. The mindset is: The more expensive it is - the better it is. This expense is then forced down all the departments throats in an effort to standardize. The result is a huge waste of tax money on systems that are literally shoved in a corner and never used. The real work is done on Windows laptops that are purchased out of the office expense budgets. They are all user setup and are notoriously insecure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Liberty Dave, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 6:57am

    Government systems versus Private

    All you have to do is compare government services or products with the private sector.

    Government wastes money, has no incentive to innovate or ensure that the product/service is competitive in terms of ease of use, cost, or overall quality.

    Now compare that to the private sector. They have reasons to innovate, be competitve in terms of price, service, and quality.

    This is the problem with government run programs/services. They're not forced to compete with anything or anyone, they're almost always over budget because there's no real incentive to keep costs in check (they just will keep dipping into the taxpayer trough) and since they have no competition (government is a true monopoly) they have no reason to innovate or make sure their product/service is of high quality.

    And they don't care if you dont' like the system, they're not interested in their "customers", and they use force to get people to use a product/service rather than letting people select the best choice based on quality, cost, etc.

    That's government for you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    chris (profile), Jan 25th, 2007 @ 7:13am

    the government that governs best...

    is the one that governs least.

    this sounds like a brilliant move for canadian government to ensure that they are one of the best governments around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    I'm living with it ..., Jan 25th, 2007 @ 9:39am

    It really is a pain...

    I'm am currently working with the Canadian Government and have seen this system take 'shape' (as much as slime can hold a shape) since 1999. In it's infancy it really did look like a good idea and the plans were kept simple and maintainable. What happened is that the private sector got control of the project and saw this as a way of setting a barbed hook in the side of government by making a system that was so large and complex that no-one else could duplicate,take-over, or otherwise take control over all with HEAVY taxpayer subsidy.

    The Canadian government is in over its head on this one and doesn't want to admit it made another costly mistake. It's to the point right now that we can prove that we can provide cheaper rates by almost 50% in some cases but '"it's been built so you will go"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    JC Jackson, Jan 25th, 2007 @ 11:20am

    Writing Specs

    Honest government requires competitive bid purchasing of complex and thusly expensive systems, and such purchasing requires a detailed and complex specification which thoroughly describes and confines the desired performance of any purchased system. In my years of government experience I have rarely found a political appointee that could use the language well enough to even read and comprehend, much less appointees able to write clearly and without misunderstanding, and even much less yet an appointee able to write anything as complex as a specification for a computer software system. So, is it any wonder U.S. government systems rarely start and run? ;-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, Jan 29th, 2007 @ 7:31pm

    Doctrine of Ministerial Responsibility

    The minister whose department authorised the purchase is the minister who should resign, just as in industry, if a CxO makes a wrong deal which wastes huge amounts of money, he will be forced to resign by the Board. It would encourage ministers to only approve things they understand, or have had explained to them by someone independent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    John W. Hembree, Feb 26th, 2007 @ 3:39pm

    Re: Easy fix for them

    Are you the Duane M. Navarre formally of Edmond, Oklahoma in the 1980's and 90's? If not, sorry to bother, I stumbled across this site. If so, Id love to hear from you, my number is 405- 632- 1561.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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