WHAT'S $12 MILLLION AMONG FRIENDS?

MARICOPA COUNTY IS SCRAPPING A BRAND-NEW, VERY EXPENSIVE COMPUTER SYSTEM SO IT CAN BUY---SURPRISE!---ANOTHER NEW, EXPENSIVE COMPUTER SYSTEM

But those reports, insiders say, were overwhelmed by Ching's gloomy assessment, and members of the Board of Supervisors were left with a lopsided view of the world when they approved the agency's decision to scratch the IBM.

Carefully attempting not to comment directly on the decision, Ed King says he believes the incident indicates that the Board of Supervisors has not been fully informed about what the county's management is doing with the money it is given for computer systems.

County management, he says, seems to have an attitude that the board does not want to know the nuts and bolts of what county employees are doing.

"The staff feels the Board of Supervisors is not interested in helping them solve their computer problems," King says.

@rule:
@body:Although the decision was made months ago, the final bullet was fired into the IBM/IBAX system last week. The new system is now being shut down, and left awaiting the tractor-trailer trucks that are supposed to come in and haul it away.

So what is the health agency using as a computer? To a large extent, it is once again relying on the 14-year-old Honeywell system that everyone agrees can't do the job.

In its report, Ching & Associates concluded that the Honeywell could limp along until another, new system is found and put in place. But critics point out that the Honeywell, with all due respect for its service over the years, is well past its prime. In fact, no one knows how much it will cost to keep nursing the thing along while more consultants, committees, reports and planners decide what to do next.

The longer it is in use, experts say, the more the Honeywell will cost, and the greater the risk of a major failure that could wipe out crucial agency records.

"I've told the folks here the Honeywell system is held together with spit and gum," says technical support manager Rowan. "We're looking for a disaster."
It is not unusual for the Honeywell system to crash on any given day, Steve Wilson says, and the entire system must be shut down for hours every Thursday for maintenance. While there has been no significant loss of data in any of the crashes to date, Rowan says, the risk is constant.

"We've been taking disk-drive hits," Rowan says, in what constitutes apocalyptic language among computer types. He means that in some crashes, files and information are just disappearing. Sometimes they can be retrieved, sometimes not. Such disasters can be expected to continue so long as the ancient Honeywell system is in use.

Desperate to maintain its computer capabilities after the IBM/IBAX system was shut down, Rowan and others say, the agency had to come up with a quick fix to keep operations going.

So last week, in preparation for the departure of the IBM 3090, agency computer technicians were rushing to prop up the moribund Honeywell system.

The solution?
The agency bought another IBM mainframe, this one much smaller than the 3090 that is being replaced. Williams says it cost the county about $80,000.

So until the county decides what will replace the IBM mainframe it no longer wants, it will use another IBM mainframe, along with the ancient Honeywell system that almost everyone agrees should have been scrapped years ago. And $12 million-plus of taxpayer investment will be rolled out the door and hauled away.

In the words of one planner involved in the project, who asked not to be named for fear he would join the many others who have lost their county jobs: "It doesn't strike me as particularly logical.

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