Covid 19 coronavirus: Government’s vaccination register ‘just putting money into a Silicon Valley billionaire’s pocket’

The Ministry of Health’s $38 million effort to create an online system to manage Covid-19 vaccinations is “just putting money into a Silicon Valley billionaire’s pocket”, local IT industry group NZRise says.

Previous criticism has centred on a security breach involving the data of more than 700 patients; the Government’s inability – until this week – to provide accurate vaccination data; and the related issue of DHBs striking out on their own path, using different software systems, while they wait for the Government’s new cloud-based solution to be fleshed out.

But NZRise cochair Victoria MacLennan has also highlighted that the vaccine register effort is heavy on multinationals.

Last October, US companies Salesforce and Amazon were named as key technology partners for the Government’s $38m push to create the new online system for managing the Covid-19 vaccination rollout.

The Ministry of Health has since told the Herald a third partner, Australian firm Skedulo – the maker of a booking plug-in for Salesforce. The MoH hopes Skedulo will be grafted onto its Salesforce-based solution by late May.

It says the Salesforce-based system won’t be ready for months, but a cut-down version has been created that is being used to manage the initial round of jabs. However, the situation has been complicated by some DHB’s opting to use booking software developed by Irish company Valentia Technologies in the meantime, while others are using a system created by US company Service Now.

MacLennan says NZRise appreciates that the normal procurement rules might not be practical during a viral outbreak – but also thinks there should have been scope for a quick-fire “agile” tender, under the Procurement Rules laid down for all Crown agencies by MBIE, which include Rule 16 with is “priority outcome” provision to “increase the number of New Zealand businesses contracting directly to government.”

“NZRise observation is that the Government is struggling with the conflict between Rule 16 and the need in pandemic times to get things done really quickly, which lends itself to building out more of their existing digital products,” MacLennan says.

Salesforce and Amazon’s AWS were already incumbents, to a degree, with the former’s software used to track breast screening, and the latter involved, along with Auckland’s Rush Digital, in the NZ Covid Tracer app.

“On this decision, I feel the need to share this quote from one of our members: ‘Buying more Salesforce is just putting more money directly into a Silicon Valley billionaires’ pockets,” MacLennan says.

Salesforce, whose core product caters to customer relationship management or CRM, was founded in 1999 by Oracle executive Marc Benioff, bankrolled in part by his mentor, Oracle founder Larry Ellison. Today it has a market cap of around US$206 billion, and its many brands include workplace collaboration tool Slack, which it bought in 2020 for US$27b.

Forbes estimates Benioff’s wealth at US$8.8b, Ellison at US99.8b.

High speed, high chance of wobbles

“Even in pandemic times, honouring privacy, security, data sovereignty and trust issues need to be factored into decision making,” MacLennan says.

Where there has been a need for speed, too much corner-cutting can lead to a lack of understanding of the process and “potential for signing up to lifelong customisations, vendor lock-in, and business processes that are not fit-for-purpose,” MacLennan says.

“This is the harsh reality we have all seen in large government project failures.

“Our members’ advice for selecting a solution quickly would be to still follow a selection process, albeit an agile one, include in the selection criteria all of the above and specifically bake in questions on how selecting any digital solution will directly benefit the New Zealand economy.”

She adds: “NZRise also understands the Salesforce implementation project at Ministry of Health is taking a very long time, so can understand why DHBs might be looking to leverage other digital solutions in the meantime.”

NZRise cofounder Don Christie said earlier that “cultural cringe”, in some instances, saw government departments opt for multinational providers when local outfits had the chops for the job, and were price-competitive.

The lobby group argues that as well as keeping the spend local, following Rule 16 will help develop NZ’s skills base and digital economy, growing our overall tax base.

The Herald has put questions about the Covid-19 registration system tender to the Ministry of Health.

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