Friday, February 03, 2012

Crisis? Wot crisis?

Last week, all livestock keepers in SW England received a letter, explaining new changes and "why they are necessary". Now 'change' - if not undertaken for the sake of it - usually implies improvement, but with Government in general and its computer technology in particular, that is rarely the case.

We given you several glimpses of the new SAM computer's chaos in previous postings. The present version of SAM it seems, can neither add up, nor cope with anything other than 100 percent accurate data. One mistake and there is no 'delete' button. The whole lot must be scratched and operatives start again from the beginning. Add to this toxic mix, AHVLA experienced admin staff received their marching orders just as SAM was launched, and were replaced by agency part timers with no knowledge of 14 digit eartag numbers or the 1mm difference in testing results which can mean life or death.

This recipe has given England's 'livestock keepers' severe indigestion, with some farmers receiving bundles of SAM generated paperwork, most inaccurate and many repeated - while others have received nothing at all.

But back to this anodyne and understated letter which explains that SAM will be the all singing, all dancing system which "improves the way we manage TB testing and other disease controls."
"SAM will enable us to do this by automating more of our processes, allowing us to to reduce the number of administrative staff we employ, saving the tax payer over £2 million per annum."
the letter continues:
"SAM, which will replace increasingly out-of-date and expensive to maintain computer systems, can also be used by private veterinary practices, who do the majority of on-farm testing, enabling better and quicker communication between us."
Sounds good? The reality is that vets are still unable to use SAM, that AHVLA's original Help Line number connected with a London solicitor's office and that at present, SAM is losing data, losing reactors, losing herds under restriction, losing historic test data and can't add up.

Our letter ended by dumbing down these many and serious glitches and an apology if 'you have experienced issues with the level of our customer service, for example by incorrect or duplicated correspondence'. Somewhat of an understatement, we feel.

But this week, Farmers Guardian reports that it has received sight of an internal letter about dear old SAM, and the terminology in this document is substantially different from our dumbed down sheet. On that 'time saving veterinary input', the paper reports:

AHVLA staff have therefore been forced to input test result data sent in by private vets, a time consuming process exacerbated by a glitch in the system preventing user errors from being corrected. This is often causing the ‘whole action’ to be cancelled, requiring the information to be manually inputted.

This has caused serious delays in processing test charts, forcing AHVLA to bring in temporary staff to reduce the backlog.

The knock-on effects have included, in AHVLA’s words, ‘confusing and incorrect’ paperwork for farmers, creating uncertainty over the timing and results of tests and nature of disease restrictions. There have also been delays in the collection of reactors from farms and the issuing of calf export health certificates, while uncertainty over the accuracy of data has forced Defra to postpone the publication of national TB statistics.
and of future data? AHVLA say they do not know when the problems with SAM will be ironed out, or whether more will surface.
... the agency’s chief operating officer Nina Purcell gives a fuller account of the situation, describing the roll out of the system as a ‘crisis’ and admitting that a number of ‘outstanding defects’ remain.

She reveals that ‘key fixes’ to Release 6 are due to be implemented in February by AHVLA and its IT contractor IBM. But she acknowledges the agency does ‘not yet know’ how long it will take to resolve the key issue of the link up between the SAM system and private vets.
So a review of the roll out has been commissioned. This will look at:
' how it [SAM] is operating and whether we are on track to meet the objectives of the original business case’
This is due to report at the end of February.

'Business case'?? 'Managing and controlling TB in your herds'?? ' Objectives' ?? And this describes a system which AHVLA describe internally as in 'Crisis', and which they have no idea when or if it can be fixed??

That sort of civil service-speke is guaranteed to enrage the most mild of 'livestock keepers', on the receiving end of such anodyne platitudes and downright lies from his so-called 'Service provider'. And referring to farmers tied down with TB restriction as 'customers' will enrage even further. The word 'customer' implies a choice of provider - and we have none. We also no longer have contact with a local name in a local office for advice on TB .... and now we have SAM.

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