ADF health records IT system implementation 'deficient'

The planning and implementation of the Australian Defence Force's health records management system in 2009 has been found to have been 'deficient', resulting in a AU$110 million blowout of the project's original budget, according to the Australian National Audit Office.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

Australian Auditor-General Ian McPhee has released a report concluding that the "deficient" planning and implementation of the Australian Defence Force's (ADF) Defence eHealth System (DeHS) in 2009 resulted in a five-fold increase in the project's overall budget by February 2014, to AU$133.3 million.

The initial June 2009 budget for the project was AU$23.3 million, according to the Australian National Audit Office's (ANAO) Report (PDF) into its review of the ADF's electronic health records management system for Defence personnel.

Defence initially planned to develop DeHS as a mature system by December 2011, but did not complete its rollout until December 2014.

The ANAO's report, released on Tuesday, said that it had identified significant weaknesses in the early stages of the project, relating to its planning and budgeting, project management, and implementation.

These weaknesses affected the overall project budget and timely implementation of outcomes, the report concluded.

Defence first moved to deliver a contemporary health records management system for ADF personnel in May 2009. The proposed system was originally called the Joint eHealth Data and Information System (JeHDI), but later became known as the Defence eHealth System (DeHS).

The ADF's business case stipulated that the proposed system would electronically capture, centralise, and manage ADF health records, linking health data for the ADF's 80,000-strong personnel.

The DeHS project has been managed by Defence's Joint Health Command (JHC), with the system designed, built, hosted, and supported by CSC.

As of December 2014, DeHS was deployed and in use across Defence's Garrison Health environments, but deployment of DeHS for use in operational environments, such as on board ships, remains a "planned activity".

The ANAO's report suggests that the project, in its entirety, was plagued by poor planning, budgeting, and implementation from its earliest days.

"Overall, Defence's planning, budgeting, and risk management for the implementation of DeHS were deficient, resulting in substantial cost increases, schedule delay, and criticism within government," the report said.

The ANAO concluded that the ADF did not properly scope and cost key components of the project, validate project cost estimates and assumptions, obtain government approval when required, follow a project management methodology, or adequately mitigate risk by adopting fit-for-purpose governance and coordination arrangements.

"Defence's planning and management of the initial phases of the DeHS project were well below the standards that might be reasonably expected by Defence's senior leadership, and exposed the department to reputational damage," the report said.

"The weaknesses identified by the ANAO in the project planning and advisory phase were avoidable," it added.

The ANAO has recommended that Defence makes sure to properly scope, cost, and validate project proposals, and adhere to approved project management methodologies in order to provide a "reasonable assurance" that complex IT project proposals and cost estimates are reliable.

"Following on from improvements in project management and implementation in the later stages of the project, an ongoing focus on system and business enhancements is required to realise the anticipated benefits of the system given the substantial investment made to date," the report said.

The ADF agreed to the recommendations, according to the ANAO.

The report comes as the government makes moves to scrap Australia's antiquated Centrelink IT system, dubbed ISIS, which manages upward of 50 million transactions every day, after concerns that it would not cope with a planned overhaul of the country's welfare system. It has been estimated that its scrapping will come at a cost of AU$1 billion.

"This is a system that still has manual processing attached to it, and it's been left to basically wither for many years," Australian Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison told Sky News earlier this week. "It's time for it to get some serious attention."

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