The NSW Education department has admitted that the pilot stage of its large-scale ERP and learning management systems overhaul is proving "more difficult than anticipated" as unions hit out at the toll the project is taking on staff.
The Learning Management and Business Reform project, which is estimated to cost about $460 million once finished, will see legacy HR, finance and payroll systems replaced with SAP software in schools across the state.
The finance and student administration modules went live in 229 selected ‘pilot’ schools, and attracted an underwhelming response from principals and support staff.
The NSW Greens claim to have obtained a series of online posts from pilot school principles sharing their frustration at the new systems' lack of functionality and usability, which the principles say has led to unpaid invoices and overworked support staff.
A Greens spokeswoman provided some select extracts from the posts, but declined to provide full records citing “privacy sensitivities”.
“We are a large school with many ongoing activities that need to be supported by efficient financial systems and we have ground to a halt. Even our petty cash has vanished and we are being made to feel its our problem.”
“We have no idea of what we have spent and the areas it has come from since moving to the new way of working.”
“My [School Administration Manager], like all others, has been spending her nights processing data for SAP. This is definitely an industrial issue. I will be giving her time in lieu, which will come from our budget not LMBR’s.”
“LMBR was supposed to save us money by not needing third party providers. At this stage, I won’t be letting them go, my school depends on them at the moment.”
Source: NSW Greens
Unions weigh in
The two unions representing NSW teachers and support staff – the Teachers Federation and the Public Service Association – have both taken action against what they are calling a rushed job that threatens staff wellbeing.
In March, the PSA directed the 229 pilot schools to halt work on implementing the LMBR “until the system becomes fully functional”, and called upon the department to fund casual relief to ease the workloads of admin staff.
It has called upon all PSA members to refuse to work outside of paid hours and designated duties for reasons related to the LMBR.
“If you continue to volunteer your time and work outside of your statement of duties, then there is no impetus on the department to fix these problems and your situation will not only continue but possibly worsen,” it advised.
PSA general secretary Anne Gardiner told iTnews that the union acknowledged the need to update the green-screen OASIS software the state is currently running, but questioned the fairness of lumping a system "that is not fully tested" without any prior training on schools.
"They expect staff to teach themselves how to use LMBR on the run," she said. "The stress involved inevitablt impacts students."
Writing in the latest edition of the Teachers Federation journal, deputy president Gary Zadkovich claimed some schools have already made attempts to withdraw from the trial, and he expects more to follow as a result of the “seriously flawed implementation”.
The Federation is currently surveying schools to quantify their angst at the program, with an eye to presenting the feedback to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli and his department.
Possible halt looming?
The program's rollout could face further delays, as the DEC confirmed the piloted modules “will not be extended to other schools until the pilot schools are operating effectively".
The department had already postponed the implementation of both the finance and payroll components in the pilot schools, as it was 'impractical' to roll out both at the same time, and pushed both back until later this year.
But a spokesperson said the department was working hard to make the transition as easy as possible, by offering funding for an additional 15 relief days at each pilot school and additional training and support to schools “who feel they need it”.
“The last finance system upgrade for schools was in 1993,” he said. “The department appreciates the significant efforts of school staff who are working hard to make the program a success.”