The high cost of T.O.’s dead tech­nol­ogy

StarMetro Toronto - - FRONT PAGE - Matt El­liott

Toronto Com­mu­nity Hous­ing Cor­po­ra­tion — Canada’s largest land­lord, re­spon­si­ble for 110,000 of the city’s most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents — uses over 125 dif­fer­ent IT sys­tems, ac­cord­ing to a report headed to Mayor John Tory’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee to­day.

And those sys­tems are old and busted.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing out­dated and in­ef­fi­cient, the report pre­pared by Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers points out that many TCHC sys­tems aren’t even able to com­mu­ni­cate with one another. The sys­tem that fore­casts re­pairs, for ex­am­ple, has no way to in­ter­face with the sys­tem that han­dles the pro­cure­ment for those re­pairs.

This might seem like a strange thing to gripe about when TCHC faces so many other prob­lems. Frus­tra­tions with out­dated com­put­ers feel a bit triv­ial when stacked up against the chal­lenge of a $2.6 bil­lion re­pair back­log.

But this nerdy stuff mat­ters. Out­dated sys­tems, the report says, cre­ate the po­ten­tial for er­rors — and when you’re deal­ing with work as im­por­tant as find­ing hous­ing for the city’s poor­est res­i­dents, er­rors can be life-al­ter­ing.

The prob­lems are not just con­fined to TCHC. Tales of woe stem­ming from the city’s out­dated tech­nol­ogy in­fra­struc­ture are com­mon­place in and around city hall.

The city’s lack of mod­ern, co­or­di­nated IT in­fra­struc­ture has more se­ri­ous con­se­quences. In April, Toronto au­di­tor gen­eral Bev­erly Romeo-Beehler told city coun­cil that her in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged bid rig­ging with city paving con­tracts was com­pli­cated by the fact that the bids were sub­mit­ted en­tirely on pa­per.

With no cen­tral­ized com­puter data­base, RomeoBeehler and her team lit­er­ally had to make like the Scooby Doo gang and drive around in a van to solve this mys­tery — col­lect­ing data by hand at var­i­ous of­fices.

In that case, the city’s busted tech­nol­ogy created a pos­si­ble av­enue for fraud. In the TCHC’s case, it cre­ates mar­gin for er­ror. And in other de­part­ments, it prompts daily frus­tra­tion — and missed op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Thank­fully, there are signs city hall is slowly drag­ging it­self out of the tech­no­log­i­cal stone age. De­part­ments like the city clerk’s of­fice and the Toronto Open Data team have in re­cent years made great strides with their on­line pres­ence. And in a strong move in the right di­rec­tion, the city will soon open a Civic In­no­va­tion Of­fice.

For them, job one should be look­ing in­ter­nally at the city’s var­i­ous sys­tems — and com­ing up with a plan to fix them.

A warn­ing: it’s go­ing to cost us.

The city didn’t ar­rive here by hap­pen­stance. An at­mos­phere of aus­ter­ity in mu­nic­i­pal bud­get­ing has con­tin­u­ously pushed bu­reau­crats to de­lay and can­cel up­grades. Mov­ing into the fu­ture won’t be cheap, but Toronto re­ally can’t af­ford to keep liv­ing in the past.


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