System problem shortchanges Canadian checks

A computer system used by a Canadian government agency cannot calculate a rate increase for people on disability and social support programs, and fixing it will take years and cost millions of dollars.

Nearly 700,000 people across Ontario will find that their benefit checks will not increase until March. The delay is due to problems with a system designed by Accenture Canada and used by the Ontario Ministry of Social Services. Instead, the ministry will send lump sum payments for the postponed 3 percent general increase in September.

Accenture Canada is a subsidiary of Accenture Ltd., a multinational corporation based in Bermuda. The ministry estimates that it will cost at least $7.6 million (in U.S. currency) to fix the system. Accenture finished the system in 2002 at a cost of $350 million to make the administration of Ontario social services more efficient.

New code

The chairman of Accenture Canada, David Seibel, downplayed the costs of the upgrade, saying it would require only an additional $2.3 million.

'The computer system does what the legislation requires,' Seibel said. 'The system has one million lines of code and 800 operating rules to capture the hundreds of pages of welfare legislation that govern benefits in Ontario. We have to write some new code and then test the code to reflect the legislation and the system to make certain the check amounts are right.'

But ministry spokeswoman Sarah Best said the testing alone would cost $5.4 million while the design and coding would be at least $2.2 million.

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