California's statewide case management system that's intended to link together data from county superior courts needs a cost cap and a comprehensive plan to ensure that courts actually use it, a review by the Office of the State Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has found.

The $1.3 billion multiphase project that began in 2002 has been adopted piecemeal by a handful of California counties, but its complexity -- the OCIO says it's one of the largest IT projects the state has ever attempted -- has delayed the final phase by six months, to April 2011, due to problems discovered during integration testing.

Even though the project has strong support from the state's judicial branch, which is managing the project, "buy-in for IT projects across multijurisdictional boundaries is extremely difficult and requires well defined processes, policies and procedures," according to the OCIO report. "While some courts have volunteered to be part of the CCMS [Court Case Management System] project, there is not a comprehensive plan that ensures county superior courts will implement and use the system. If identified courts do not agree to implement the system and/or if court employees do not effectively utilize the system, the value of the system as a tool for data sharing and management will be limited."

Critics of the project say it's too costly -- upward of $2 billion -- and will be ineffective. Some court workers also have criticized the system.

When done, the system would coordinate data exchange for case management activities in a software solution that would be shared among criminal, civil, traffic, probate and small claims courts. But to date, only six California counties have implemented the system.

OCIO said that despite the project's challenges, the project should proceed because of the expected benefits of going to a paperless environment. Gartner has identified return on investment of $157 million annually for the project, according to the OCIO.

The state CIO's office recommended that the judicial branch utilize the state IT office's expertise for the project, as well as move the system's data to a consolidated data center, among several other suggestions.

The state Assembly asked the OCIO to review the project in October 2009 and delivered its finding this month.

"The CCMS project has been challenged to date with scope, schedule and cost definition and control due to incomplete information, early lack of adherence to project management processes during the initiation stage, and the size and complexity of the effort. Despite these setbacks and future risks, the OCIO believes the project is at a point where there is more reason to move forward than to stop the project," the report said.