Veterans Affairs just announced its massive $500 million asset tracking IT project will be delayed by at last one year due to “catastrophic failure.”
Five years ago, VA launched a project to digitally track medical equipment. That project was slated to cost $543 million where Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Service (now DXC Technology) was awarded the primary contract.
The project was intended to create a real-time locating system (RTLS) that would solve mysterious problems VA has in managing its inventory. Basically, it was supposed to be a VA version of the “Internet of Things”.
According to documents obtained by My Statesman, the project ran into massive problems because VA lacked the wi-fi systems in its hospitals to actually implement the project even if HP showed up with the software, today.
Due to “catastrophic failure”, the project will be delayed at least another year.
Here is an excerpt from the publication that well summarizes what may be at the core of the problem:
In September 2013, the VA declared Hewlett-Packard’s underlying data architecture “unacceptable.”
Then, just as the Government Accountability Office was releasing its postmortem of the failed scheduling software and record merging project, the VA began large-scale testing of its RTLS tracking system.
The March 2015 test was an overwhelming failure: the system could only accurately track equipment in 40 percent of cases (a percentage disputed by Hewlett-Packard). In the majority of cases, the system could not pinpoint location and even misidentified the floor equipment was stored on.
The dismal performance was “endangering performance of the RTLS contract,” VA officials at the department’s Technology Acquisition Center in Austin warned the firm, threatening to cancel the contract if Hewlett-Packard didn’t make quick fixes.
Hewlett-Packard in turn blamed the VA’s inadequate wireless Internet infrastructure for the problems.
The company told the VA that 137 WiFi access points were non-operational and blamed the VA for cutting corners in trying to implement a cutting edge RTLS system while using faulty WiFi.
The root problem for the failures lay in “performance errors that it appears VA has failed to take responsibility to correct,” Hewlett Packard wrote, adding that the company “should not be held accountable for the VA’s WiFi limitations.”
By mid-2016, frustrations were boiling over. When a VA supervisor refused to let HP access its cloud-based back-up systems, another VA employee wondered why in an email chain. “I was also surprised,” a third VA employee wrote in an email. “But I read it as, I am 100% fed up with these nitwits and I’m not going to give on anything anymore.”
The VA later issued a stop work order and re-negotiated new or modified contracts with Hewlett-Packard. The VA downplayed the issues mentioned in internal documents, telling the Statesman that the stop work order “allowed the VA to refocus efforts toward delivering capabilities in an incremental approach beginning with those that were more mature” and “provided both parties the opportunity to finalize the path forward and realign the schedule to achieve those goals.”
“In a technology project of the scope and magnitude of RTLS, it’s common for those involved to periodically reassess the program and realign the approach in order to achieve the desired outcome,” VA officials said.
These problems are not unique to this program. VA has a horrific track record working with IT companies to develop custom solutions regardless of the amount of money thrown at the issues.
VA and DOD spent over $1 billion to unify their health care record systems without finding a solution. Ultimately, the program was abandoned and now VA is buying the same commercial solution DOD purchased.
VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, has promised to stop the practice of VA getting involved in developing IT solutions since it is a complete waste of money and time. Instead, the agency will now focus more on purchasing off-the-shelf solutions.
Good. It is about time VA focus on what the agency is supposed to do rather than develop custom IT solutions that are a complete waste of money and time.