Thursday, September 27, 2012

Million, billion, aren't they the same?

Lately I've been an angry citizen and tax payer. My anger originates from the local politics: Helsinki city board of health affairs were supposed to make a first go/no-go decision for a huge IT project about patient data management system. The decisions made in this particular project potentially effect on the whole country, and the costs of the nation-wide project were estimated to be 1,2 to 1,8 billion euros. In the Finnish economy scale that's a huge project. And one bittersweet detail in this fuzz is our dear neighbor country Estonia, who was able to create their patient data management system with 10 million euros. Well, at the moment the project is on hold, thanks to active discussion in social media.

     Now that's what I call a data management system

It's quite easy to mix millions and billions. I know that the limits of my understanding go somewhere close to 1 billion: I can understand the scale of 1 million. I'm able to understand that 100 million is huge amount of money - that's a scale of a big construction project. As an engineer I'm able to count up to 200 million, 300 million, 500 million and all the way up to 999 million - I understand that the next round figure after 999 million is 1 billion, but I'm struggling to understand the true scale of 1 billion. I just understand it's a hell of a lot money. And I hope the decision makers understand that too.

Let's try to build some perspective to this 1,2 to 1,8 billion. GDP in Finland is about 180 billion. So the estimate of the patient data system project is 1% of the GDP. That's insane. Industry sectors should be measured as "percentages of GDP", not IT projects. Take mining industry as an example. In 2010 the mining industry in Finland was about 750 million euros. In other words, this IT project is twice the size of our mining industry. The project is about the same size as the water and waste management sector in Finland. Really, IT projects are not supposed to be that big.

In 1990's, during the great Finnish recession the GDP dropped 13%. I'm happy that we haven't faced that kind of a drop ever since, but it's clear without saying that also the standards of economy have changed since the 1990's. Nowadays zero-growth in GDP is a concerning news. Decline of 1% in GDP breaks the news for sure, and then they'd be screaming about depression for sure. So practically this IT project could push the Finnish economy into recession, right?

We'll, it's easy to nag about the price tag without offering any kind of reference. I'm not an expert of massive data management systems, but my gut feeling says that with 50 million a nation size of Finland should be able to get a decent patient data management system.

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