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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 23rd year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Governments and IT projects

4 February 2013

Managing the development of large IT projects is not a job for the faint of heart.

Once you get into a project the size of Novapay, there are so many dependencies and relationships at all levels, that the smallest stuff-up can have the largest effects.

However, by all standards, the Novapay project has become a mess of gigantic proportions -- with claims that it will now take at least two years before its woes are sorted (and we all know that this is also likely to be an optimistic estimate).

What we ought to be remembering right now is that you, I and every other Kiwi taxpayer is footing the bill for this fiasco -- and the ongoing problems faced by teachers who have little prospect of being reliably paid for the foreseeable future.

It strikes me that although a great deal of the fault has to rest on the shoulders of developers Talent2, just as much blame should be apportioned to those within government who have signed-off aspects of the project that clearly should not have been accepted.

The bickering over what lies at the heart of the current problems doesn't help resolve the situation either.

On the one hand we're told that the problem isn't so much with the software as with the fact that too many schools are submitting data by email instead of using the online forms supposedly available for such functions.

It has been suggested that this tsunami of "manual" corrections has overwhelmed the support resources of Talent2 and this has caused mistakes.

Well, given that Talent2 stand to collect over $200m from their involvement in this project, I would have thought that hiring dozens or even hundreds of extra personnel to handle this work would have been a small cost to ensure that the system worked as it was supposed to.

Then there are the claims (by schools and teachers) that many elementary functions (such as entering things such as bereavement leave) are simply not supported by the automated online data-entry so they have no option but to send in manual data by email.

Many users have also complained that the online interface is far from user-friendly and this has resulted in mistakes and many long hours spent trying to enter the data required.

No doubt this tit-for-tat debate over what is the cause of the current dysfunction will continue - but it's clear that Talent2 has not delivered the solution they were contracted to.

Too many teachers are not being paid properly and unless the original specification was flawed (but still signed-off by government) then Talent2 ought to be held to account.

With memories of the ill-fated INCIS system still vivid enough to be of concern and the current Novapay situation -- one can't help but feel awfully concerned at the fact that the IRD is to commission a massive new IT system.

INCIS simply never saw the light of day so little harm was done to Kiwis.

Novapay is disrupting the lives of many teachers but little harm is being done to the majority of "ordinary Kiwis".

But... what happens if the IRD's new system is also as woefully mismanaged?

Given the unchallenged, far-reaching and draconian powers vested in the IRD, how will Kiwis respond if/when they start receiving bogus demands for hundreds of thousands of dollars in overdue tax -- perhaps due to an equally flawed "shiny new" software system?

Let's hope that *proper* checks, balances and procedures are put in place before we unleash the demon that is bad project management on *all* Kiwis.

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