BCeSIS: Doing the Same Thing Over and Over and Expecting Different Results

So, the BC government is entering negotiations to replace the “COTS student information system” that they implemented/purchased five years ago at a cost of about $100M.

With another COTS system. Yay.

To be managed and run by the same vendor running the current COTS system. Yay.

I think that MLA Rob Fleming had a valid point when he asked the Minister of Education during Question Period (I assume with some edge in his voice):

Given this government’s wasteful track record on IT projects, how can the minister assure British Columbians that his government won’t be wasting $100 million more of their tax dollars before he signs a new 12-year deal?

But there’s a reason it’s called “Question Period” and not “Answer Period”. So the Minister chose not to detail a management regime which will guard taxpayers against another failed implementation, nor a multi-vendor strategy to hedge bets against the failure of one vendor, nor a collaboration with another province to share in implementation and customization costs, nor any assurance at all that the next round will come off any different from the previous..

Curiously, the tactic the Minister chose was to defend the current iteration of BCeSIS!

It’s “one of the most robust student information systems in the country”, “there were challenges with the new technology” but “we have learned from that”, and finally:

I’ll also remind the member that the ministry engaged an independent report. That report from Gartner, who did the report, said that we have a good, stable student information system that’s meeting the needs of the school districts in the province.

Oh, um, no. The Gartner report is pretty clear, right in the executive summary:

The alternative assessment concluded that BCeSIS, as currently deployed, is **not meeting the business, technical or operational needs of BC and is not a viable future alternative **

At a cost of $100M, that’s a “colossal failure” in my or any other thinking person’s books.

I fear that the Ministry of Education IT bureaucracy is entering into a death race with the BC openStudent project, which is a consortium of school districts building a student information system using collaborative “open source” principles. OpenStudent is promising usable technology at a much lower per student cost than the provincial system.

If openStudent can get an acceptable working system in place in their partner districts before the Ministry has their new system up and running, some senior IT poobahs will be very embarrassed, and we can’t have that. So we’re going to get a death race.

My advice to OpenStudent: stop using “comic sans” in your business case documents. And watch out because your first public delivery will be used to beat you over the head with. “Missing all these features that the COTS product has!” “I found a bug!” “It erased my laptop” “Comic sans!”

There no bunfight like an IT bureaucracy bunfight.