Thursday, March 30, 2006

Darwin Award Followup

Man, this kind of thing just doesn't go public very often, but it's just great. I often wonder how many people sleep their way to the top because of the complete lack of skill they show in their position. Anyway, not only do I maintain Tonya's Darwin Award for extremely horrific decisions, I now have to come up with some other award... something that captures the amount of sleeze that Tonya appears to be. What do you say guys... maybe a Technology Pornstar Award, or maybe the Wettest Technology Award... I look forward to getting some good suggestions from you guys, and I'll assign the award once we land on a name.

Anyway, a reader brought this to my attention. It was printed in the Dallas Observer. Here's the link to the actual article though I've copied it below.

March 22, 2006
Communication Breakdown
Filed under: News
In a rare piece of good news for the Dallas County Jail, InfoIntegration, the infamously incompetent computer firm that lost track of inmates like they were old pairs of tube socks, will not renew its contract when it expires in July. Tonya Brenneman, the founder of the firm, got the lucrative contract the old-fashioned way—on her back, according to a fine story in D magazine that had her admitting to sleeping with the man who wrote the contract for the county.

Whistling, as always, past the graveyard, Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell told The Dallas Morning News that InfoIntegration was the victim merely of bad publicity–as opposed to, say, an unqualified CEO. “In my opinion, they did a good job,” he said.

Unable to adjust his opinions to the wealth of information at hand, Cantrell sets the bar rather low considering that thanks to InfoIntegration, dozens of inmates languished in the jail long after their sentence was completed. The News’ James O’Neill did a Pulitzer-worthy piece exposing the company, jail and county for this total system breakdown that in essence imposed an additional punishment above and beyond what the judge ordered. (Attorney David Finn reprints the story on his blog.)

Last December, we chronicled the sad plight of Rhenia Chavers, incarcerated at the jail for the high crime of driving with a suspended license. Chavers was behind bars while the InfoIntegration system was just working out a few kinks–no big deal, really, except that her own son couldn’t locate her. He called the jail staff, and they said they had no idea where she was. She kind of needed to talk to him. While at the jail, Rhenia Chavers did not receive her Lupus medication and suffered a stroke shortly after her incarceration. When I last talked to her in December, she still had trouble walking.

Then there was the plight of Scott Williams, who wound up at the jail last February on a DUI charge. InfoIntegration lost track of him too, and he wound up at the jail for over a week. We chronicled how good a time he had while he was incarcerated without his HIV medication and his partner unable to come to his aid. A few highlights:

“Williams says that inmates wrote their names in shit on the walls, and a water fountain was the waste receptacle of choice for one inmate with diarrhea.

‘There was shit on the toilets. When I’m talking shit, I’m talking an inch of shit,’ he says. ‘I just squatted over it and pushed and tried to aim as best I could.’”

Williams said that because he wasn’t eating sandwiches provided to him, he was forced to strip naked and move to a suicide cell. He shivered for 12 hours, lying on the floor without a blanket while trying to avoid shattered glass on the floor of his cell. Because he hadn’t been receiving his medicine for depression and anxiety, he suffered through an agonizing withdrawal. At night, he’d hear inmates who weren’t receiving their prescribed drugs bang noisily on their cells in protest. –Matt Pulle
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

My First Darwin Award

This is the first Darwin award I've handed out and boy is it a good one.

This post will have 3 parts: The award, the background, the article.


My first Darwin award goes to Tonya Brenneman, President of InfoIntegration in Dallas. Not only did Tonya fail to gather requirements for her system, but she ignored the advice of her DBAs and Microsoft. Read the article below and you'll see what I mean.


Back a couple years ago my wife got a job at InfoIntegration as a DBA on the project mentioned in the news article below. She soon started coming home with reports of how poor the design was and how things were going to fall apart. I took a look at a couple things with her to give it a 2nd pair of eyes, and she was not only right, the problem was worse than even she thought. On my own time I benchmarked a couple of the problems with the projected usage for the system. My benchmarks showed that once it went live, the system would suffer from such severe performance issues that it would be all but completely unusable in under a day. This would put the system having maintenance on it all day long just to keep up. I don't know about you guys, but I don't know any production system that can have defrags run against it 24/7. Anyway, when she went to her bosses with our findings, they not only ignored her, they actually blew her off and said that not only did they know what they were doing, but even if she were right, that portion of the system had already been written and it would be too much trouble to do it again. She kept making waves and was soon fired. She's not the only one who left that job for a similar reason.

This should go to prove to you guys that taking database issues lightly isn't a good idea. When your DBAs tell you something, listen. They're warning you of danger for a reason, and if you're so freaking smart then why do you even have a DBA? Trust your people and they'll do good by you.

OK, with that said, here's the newspaper article that came out just today on this. Trust me... read it... it's a great article, and not only is it written well, but it really goes to show how important your databases can be.


Computer firm to let jail contract expire
Dallas County: In-house employees to take over inmate tracking system

05:45 AM CST on Wednesday, March 22, 2006
By KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News

The company that built the computer system for Dallas County that caused chaos in the courts and left some inmates languishing in jail for too long will not renew its contract when it expires at the end of July.

The county plans to hire its own staff to run the troubled system, which officials say will save money.

InfoIntegration's president, Tonya Brenneman, told county officials in a letter that her company would help with the transition. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A multitude of problems surfaced after the January 2005 launch of InfoIntegration's $9 million Adult Information System, or AIS, which tracks inmates from booking to final case disposition.

"They felt it was in their best interest to sever this relationship and develop business in outside venues," said Robert Clines, the county's technology chief.

The county had been planning to rebid the AIS contract in October, he said.

"I don't think it was a secret that we were looking at other options for support of the system," he said.

Commissioner Mike Cantrell said InfoIntegration officials thought it was a good time to step aside, "given the history of what's taken place and the publicity."

"In my opinion, they did a good job."

Mr. Clines said he will ask county commissioners for money to create five to seven positions to take over operation of the AIS system, which he said has overcome earlier problems.

The county still plans to contract for help in fixing minor problems, he said. But handling system operations in-house will be cheaper for the county, he said.

The county had been paying InfoIntegration about $460,000 for renewable six-month contracts, he said. Mr. Clines said he is trying to determine with the budget office how much the proposed new positions will cost.

"We will not be spending near that much money," Mr. Clines said.

He wants the new employees hired at least 30 to 45 days before the end of InfoIntegration's contract so they can be trained on the system. Mr. Clines estimates that 120 hours of training will be needed.

The county awarded the AIS contract to InfoIntegration in 2003. At the time, Ms. Brenneman had just formed the company after leaving the firm that handled the computer system for the juvenile department.

The new system failed to transfer information to the county's old mainframe system that the courts use, causing some inmates to remain in jail for weeks or months after they posted bail or their cases were dismissed.

Microsoft was hired to evaluate what went wrong and issued a scathing report in October that detailed a list of mistakes by InfoIntegration and the county, including failing to determine what kind of system was needed and how it would function.

Mr. Clines said most of the more serious problems, such as security issues, have been fixed. He said a governance committee staffed by judges and representatives of the district attorney's office and sheriff's office was formed to review changes.

"All of the glaring problems, we have addressed," he said. "These are the nuisance problems."

In February 2005, the help desk was averaging 1,000 calls a month. It's now down to between 300 and 350 monthly calls, Mr. Clines said.

He estimated it will take up to four months to iron out remaining problems.

Since 1992, all computer support in the county has been outsourced, Mr. Clines said. He called the new arrangement a hybrid, with some services to be contracted by outside firms and others being handled in-house.

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Sean McCown
I am a Contributing Editor for InfoWorld Magazine, and a frequent contributor to as well as I live with my wife and 3 kids, and have practiced and taught Kenpo for 22yrs now.
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