California scraps massive courts software project

Hundreds of millions of dollars had already been spent on the effort, which would have modernized the state's court system software

California's Judicial Council has put the brakes on a long-running, massive software project that was supposed to modernize the state's trial courts case-management systems, saying the software is viable but that there's simply no money to continue installing it.

The council, which sets policy for California's courts, made the decision on Tuesday to halt the rollout of the California Court Case Management System (CCMS).

"What we do best in the judicial branch is to weigh the evidence and make reasoned and deliberate decisions," Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement. "The council's decision to stop deployment of CCMS was responsible and prudent in view of our budget situation and the facts we gathered on the actual costs of deployment. CCMS works. Unfortunately, we don't have the resources to deploy it."

An independent audit found that it would cost US$343 million to deploy and support CCMS version four to 11 courts through fiscal year 2020-2021, according to the Judicial Council. Some $333.3 million has been spent so far on the third and fourth versions of CCMS, it said.

Earlier versions of CCMS are already implemented at a number of trial courts. But they aren't as advanced as version four, which can "handle all case types, provide for data exchange, and provide public access to cases across the state," according to a statement. The Judicial Council voted on Tuesday to continue supporting those earlier implementations.

Now, the CCMS Internal Committee will make recommendations to the council for "other ways" to use the CCMS technology and the state's investment in it "as well as develop new strategies to assist courts with failing case management systems," according to a statement.

The system's total cost had been estimated to be roughly $2 billion.

California's economy has been struggling for years, leading to deep cuts in state government spending. The trial courts weren't spared, experiencing a $350 million cut in the current fiscal year.

Those pressures no doubt influenced the council's decision to pull the plug on CCMS, which dates back to 2001 and was meant to supplant some 70 separate case management systems.

Deloitte, which served as the main systems integrator on the project, will get a $16 million cost reimbursement, according to a statement. A spokesman for Deloitte did not respond to a request for comment on the council's decision.

CCMS' demise had been foreshadowed for some time.

Last year, the state's auditor released a scathing report on the project, saying that even if the rollout was completed, it could become outdated shortly thereafter. It might also be impossible to realize the expected return on investment predicted by an independent consultant, the auditor's report said at the time.

Overall, the CCMS system's woes drew a shocked reaction from Michael Krigsman, an expert on IT project failures and CEO of the consulting firm Asuret.

"I am dumbstruck over the incredible waste and obvious poor planning associated with this system," Krigsman said via email. "This failure only adds to California's reputation as the land of IT boondoggles. It is time to re-evaluate how California handles IT-related investment projects. Something needs to change."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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