How politics derailed a hundred million dollar IT overhaul

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How politics derailed a hundred million dollar IT overhaul

Inside Queensland’s latest payroll saga.

The Queensland election couldn’t have come at a worse time for Datacom.

In late 2014 the IT services company was on the verge of signing a massive, hard-won deal with Queensland’s Public Safety Business Agency to take over the job of processing the wages of all the state’s ambulance and prison officers, firies, and non-frontline support workers.

The business process outsourcing would hand end-to-end payroll processing to Datacom on its SAP platform, and take the state government off the hook for the replacement of its long out-of-date LATTICE payroll technology.

iTnews understands Datacom had spent a very large sum of money on the bidding process at this point.

But come January this year, Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor party rolled the LNP government and the $101 million PSBA payroll project was halted in its tracks.

Despite having already spent $19.8 million on the planning, design and procurement phase of the project, the PSBA team was sent back to the drawing board to come up with something more politically palatable to the state’s new lawmakers.

Then-Emergency Services Minister Jo-Ann Miller came to the portfolio with a mandate for “reversing any outsourcing, privatisation and forced redundancies that may have occurred in the PSBA”.

Elsewhere in the government, privatisation plans like the sell-off of IT infrastructure provider CITEC were also called off.

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The move was a clear attempt to distance the new government from the slash-and-burn strategy of LNP premier Campbell Newman, which saw him cut thousands of jobs out of the state’s public service.

It also meant that outsourcing payroll processing to Datacom - a decision that would almost certainly make a large number of back-office jobs redundant within Queensland Shared Services (QSS) - was no longer in keeping with the state’s agenda.

Turning the ship around

The PSBA, the agency created by the LNP to consolidate and takeover corporate services for the state’s emergency services agencies, was left to pick up the pieces and figure out what to do next.

In July, the project was marked with a red warning alert on the state’s IT project dashboard, in recognition of the halt in proceedings and the PSBA’s successful application to defer funding.

However, PSBA boss Kelvin Anderson insisted the project was still on track to meet its December 2017 deadline, and remained tight-lipped on any other details of the hiatus.

But new information out of the state’s public sector watchdog reveals the scheme might not even be in the hands of Anderson and the emergency services support agency any more.

Last week Queensland auditor-general Andrew Greaves revealed the program has now taken a “new direction” that will see the Department of Science, IT and Innovation’s shared services division (formerly known as QSS) bundle ambulance, fire and rescue and corrective services into its ongoing program of upgrading client agencies to a supported version of the Aurion payroll system.

DSITI and the PSBA are being a bit more circumspect about the plans.

"The state government is currently considering the way forward on this matter," a spokeswoman for the department told iTnews. The PSBA declined to answer a series of questions on the matter and issued the same line in response.

During 2014-15, DSITI completed the transition of all client agencies still using the out-of-support SAP4.6C payroll system onto Aurion version 10.

The DSITI shared services team will continue to process emergency services wages under the redesigned scheme, according to the auditor.

The report also revealed the PSBA has made a new submission to cabinet outlining its new strategy to tackle the LATTICE problem.

“New program timelines, outcomes and cost assessments will need to be developed and this will result in further delays in replacing the high risk payroll system,” the report stated.

Greaves made his displeasure with the back and forth of yet another derailed payroll project known.

“The program has established its direction largely on government’s policy positions rather than on the strength of its own business case and benefits analysis," he wrote.

“As the program falls behind schedule and changes direction, the costs are increasing and benefits may decrease."

Delays upon delays

Meanwhile, the complex wages of Queensland’s prisons, fire and ambulance staff continue to be processed by the same LATTICE technology that Queensland Health was in such a hurry to migrate off back in 2007.

LATTICE has been out of vendor support since June 2008.

iTnews understands keeping it up and running also requires the government to source out-of-manufacture hardware to support it at the back end.

DSITI has confirmed it takes 56 members of its shared services team to process pays for the cluster.

The Queensland opposition has urged the government to treat the project with a bit more urgency.

“In government, we were ready to sign the contract. It is of great concern to the opposition that almost 12 months later, as far as we can see, nothing has happened,” shadow IT minister John McVeigh told iTnews.

“LATTICE was built in the 1990s, and its continued use creates the risk or human error and faults with the ageing system."

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