Software debacle answers needed

Published 10:33 pm Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Suffolk taxpayers have spent $1.1 million on a software package that has been under development for the past five years. What they’re getting for that money appears to be nothing, as the city canceled the vendor’s contract on the eve of the date the software was to go live. Now, city officials are planning to issue a new request for proposals for a company that can provide the product that was ordered back in 2010 — one that does all the things the city says the software should do.

If something seems odd about that description of the current situation involving customized revenue collection and billing software from PCI LLC, then you’re probably one of those people who balances your checkbook every month, checks your credit rating every year and watches your stock valuations on a regular basis.

In other words, you’re probably not the kind of person who would be involved in overseeing a five-year software project that is shut down at the last minute — and after $1.1 million in expenditures — because it supposedly doesn’t perform some of the most basic and important functions required of it.

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If you do all the vigilant things to protect your personal finances, you’re probably the kind of person who would keep an eye on a five-year contract, raising red flags when it seemed that problems might coming over the horizon and maybe even canceling — or, at least, threatening to cancel — the contract if and when those red flags were ignored.

Or, you could wait until you’d spent a pile of money, ignore solutions offered by some of the software’s expected primary users, continue spending and waiting until the software was about to be rolled out and then dramatically cancel the contract, assuring everyone that you’re confident (some? all?) the money can be recouped through a lawsuit.

Only a cynical person would imagine someone who could be so vigilant with his or her personal finances and so cavalier with those of his or her taxpayer-employers.

Doubtless, there are factors involved in the PCI software debacle that Suffolk’s taxpayers are not aware of. City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn ensured many of those issues would remain unknown to the public by suggesting that council members meet with her individually for explanations about what went wrong, rather than addressing the issue during an open meeting last week.

So the public is left to wonder: How, exactly, could the city administration have let such an important project go so long and at such great a cost without effective oversight? It’s a question the City Council should be ready to answer publicly very soon.