Aust govt justifies insourcing bungled IBM e-health project

The National E-Health Transition Authority has said that the work IBM was doing for the e-health project before being dumped can now be done internally by the organisation, thanks to advancements in technology.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) has defended the decision to implement its own authentication service for e-health records after its multi-million dollar contract with IBM fell apart.

IBM's AU$23.6 million contract with the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) was signed in 2011 for delivery by June 30, 2012. IBM was tasked to develop a system that would use public key infrastructure and secure tokens, such as smart cards, in order to provide an authenticated service. This was so that healthcare personnel and providers could exchange e-health information, including referrals, prescriptions, and personally controlled electronic health records (PCEHRs), as part of the Australian government's AU$466.7 billion investment in e-health.

The contract with IBM has subsequently been terminated, with the matter potentially bound for the courts. While both sides remain silent on the issue, the government has been working to bring in an interim National Authentication Service for Health (NASH) system with the Department of Human Services (DHS).

In questions given to NEHTA on notice following Senate Estimates hearings in October, Liberal Senator Sue Boyce questioned why IBM had been given the project in the first place, if NASH could undertake the task itself once IBM was dumped. It was a "costly error of judgement," Boyce said, and she requested all accompanying documentation around the tendering process.

In responses given last week, NEHTA declined to reveal the documents under commercial-in-confidence obligations and commercial sensitivities, but the organisation said that technology had improved in the time since IBM was awarded the contract.

"It is now over two years since the NASH tender was released, and both technology and the market have moved significantly over this time," NEHTA said. "This has provided NEHTA further opportunity to provide greater value to the market with a fit-for-purpose product."

It noted that the "failure by IBM to deliver" the project allowed NEHTA to re-examine what was available in the marketplace.

"Industry capabilities were not fully established when the contract was first let, but have been built and enhanced locally into secure, capable services in the meantime. The DHS solution has been able to leverage off the capability, together with their considerable technical capacity to offer a NASH solution."

Take-up for the government's e-health record service has been slow, with just over 13,000 people signed up as of October 17. The aim of the project is to have 500,000 people signed up by June 30 next year.

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