According to a report by the Auditor General of the City of Buenos Aires (AGCBA, for its acronym in Spanish), the project to computerize the civil registry was "flawed" and "did not produce results."
At the time of the AGCBA’s report –approved last year- the German company Siemens Itron Buisness Service SA, hired for their service, had not developed a records management application that could withstand the amount of information that the Civil Registry of Buenos Aires usually handles. Without a doubt, the agency rejected the different versions of software that were tested.
Siemens was contracted in December 2003 under a mode known as "turnkey", in which the emphasis is on "global responsibility assumed by the contractor to the customer." By not receiving the expected application, the City decided to suspend ongoing payments and that on December 2007 had already reached 68.5% of an agreed convention of $1,543,906 million dollars and 2,641,016 pesos (made in different currency depending on the origin of goods and services that needed to be purchased). “The suspension of payments motivated the contractor to discontinue the project, generating a negotiation that took place at the end of this audit," says the watchdog.
In the 2003 contract the company agreed to manage the project, providing computer hardware equipment -138 computers, 9 servers, 56 printers and 32 scanners-, wiring, technical service, and application development to manage records. "In the absence of (the last program) a final product was impossible," says the AGCBA, and adds that after a four year agreement it was a "clear waste of investment."
But the Audit also highlighted other observations of the computerization project. First, there was a "significant underutilization" of 18 computers for the Centers of Management and Participation as well as for the community hospitals where the offices of the Civil Registry are located. Such equipment, which cost $ 17,000 in January 2006, were to be used in offices that handle between 2000 and 6000 records a year, little, if one takes into account the ability of the technology in question, and the Registry processes annually about 175 thousand records. But there is more: the use of computers was delayed so much that at the time of the audit the computers weren’t working. For the watchdog, this "generated a fiscal cost to the government of the City, who made the investment and did not get the expected return of services."
Second, and in addition to the computers, the remainder of the equipment purchased for computerization was "on the verge of its life span, considered around three years, without the project even taking place," and with the aggravating "rapid depreciation suffered by these assets," states the AGCBA.
The plan provided for digitizing records, i.e., scanning procedures of marriages, births, and deaths. The report notes that this work was "partially" done and that "there were problems with the quality of the images." Specifically, until December 2007, Siemens had around 2,300,000 digitized records, of which the Registry "only accepted 600,000."
During the contract period the digital signature mechanism was added, although it was applied to "a small part" of documents, about 5,000. However, the audit states that "the digitization of records does not include authentication thereof by digital or electronic signature." I.e. digitized copies have no legal value and to certify must resort to the classic minute books, a "step that would be desirable to avoid in the future due to its time-consuming and inefficiency," the report recommends.
As for the "data capture" in the proceedings, although the detected faults dropped from 20% to 8%, the AGCBA, clarifies that the figure is "equally unacceptable for a statement stipulating zero error."
The watchdog concluded that although the computerization of the Civil Registry was developed with "delays and difficulties, it generally (achieved) a significant amount of intermediate products that aim to facilitate the future," even though the plan did not "leave any outcome installed and running.” It was also noted that the "turnkey" contracts agreed "with no detailed design, have proven ineffective as a method of procurement within the City Government."