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Pro tip: You know there's a problem when all your users show up for work wearing red

There are many ways to gauge satisfaction with a new computer system, but when the people who have to use it show up for work wearing red and declare it "Code Red" day, you probably don't need to bother with a survey.

That's exactly what's scheduled to happen this Thursday in the city of Hamilton, Ontario, where government workers plan to protest the one-year anniversary of a controversial new computer system.

Ontario's Social Assistance Management System (SAMS), installed a year ago this week by the province's Ministry of Community and Social Services, was supposed be a more efficient replacement for its outdated case management system.

It hasn't quite turned out that way.

Numerous bugs have plagued the system, lengthening rather than shortening many work flows. It now takes longer for people to qualify for social assistance than it did before, and some $20 million in erroneous payments have apparently been sent out.

The cost of the system, meanwhile, has reportedly increased from $240 million to $294 million as the province struggled to make it workable.

"Code Red for SAMS" day was organized by two employee unions, according to Bill Atanas, director of the Business Transformation Team for Hamilton's Community and Emergency Services Department. The kicker is that this will actually be the second such protest day to take place.

"Since implementation, there have been significant impacts to staff, clients, community partners and internal operations," Atanas said via e-mail. "Although the turmoil of the initial months when SAMS launched has subsided to some extent, staff frustrations continue with navigating the system."

Tales of frustration are plentiful in the tech industry, of course, but the past week or two have been particularly fruitful.

Here's another: Connecticut's Department of Motor Vehicles installed a new computer system earlier this year with the explicit goal of shortening wait times at DMV offices.

Want to guess what really happened? That's right: Wait times actually got longer. Instead of half an hour, some patrons have had to wait as long as three hours, according to a CBS report on Monday.

South Carolina's Department of Social Services, meanwhile, is looking at an 18-year delay -- that's right, 18 years -- for a system to track deadbeat parents, according to a report Friday.

The state is said to have had to pay more than $120 million in fines for blowing its extended 1997 deadline for complying with a 1988 federal law requiring such systems. Along the way, much like the state of Michigan, it's been embroiled in litigation with vendors including HP.

The system is now expected to go live in October 2019.

Similar delays and woes now reportedly beset the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems" (MIDAS) project, which was envisioned a decade ago and is reportedly now $140 million over budget, two years overdue and only 20 percent operational.

Then, too, there's the ongoing saga surrounding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' system, which is reportedly denying healthcare to some 29,000 or so combat vets.

Finally, you've got to feel for those involved in the launch of National Health Services Scotland's shiny new system late last month. The technology was reportedly already two years late and £41.6m over budget. Launch day finally arrived, and what happens? It crashes, forcing staff back to pen and paper.

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Katherine Noyes

IDG News Service
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