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Pathways-ED: IT is a lot bigger than you think!


Informtaion Technology (IT) is big business in New Zealand.  Statistics NZ puts the IT spend at $6.4 billion each year.  As this figure does not include expenditure that is internal or for labour, it can be assumed that quite a bit of it is spent on IT Projects and Developments – the Novopay kind of project.

They also estimate that when it comes to IT projects in New Zealand, 25% of them succeed, 25% of them fail and the rest fall into the “grey area” or in other words things are much the same as they have always been, no great damage done but not much improvement is obvious either.

The failure of large IT developments in the State Sector has usually been greeted with the clicking of tongues, the issuing of reprimands and the usual calls for blood.  The Health Sector called a major development off once but only after spending quite a few million before realising that it wasn’t going to work.

The Police Department was an early pioneer in IT issues when back in the mid-1980s it launched its INCIS Project. It ballooned out to costing over a million dollars.  In reality the project was abandoned in 1999 but various bit and pieces were able to be used.  The police have recently abandoned its system for recording offenders and reverted to the previous system it used on the grounds that it was better and, anyway, staff preferred using the older one.

This last point is an issue that is often not included in the costs of such failures – the cost through frustration and stress when such new systems don’t work well is considerable and the reputation of the system takes quite a hammering. This sets in motion a downward spiral of mistrust and cynicism which can prove fatal.

The Novopay Affair has all the classic features of a major IT project in that it seems to have created major frustration and anger simply in trying to achieve something that has always been done one way or another – i.e. see that each fortnight teachers get paid.  This does not, to use the cliché, seem like rocket science, but it is a very complex pay roll with untold opportunity for errors and wrong payments to occur.

Does anyone remember the period that was required for the previous Payroll System to settle down in the early 1990s?  Time heals all!

In the mid-1970s I was overpaid over a period of time for reasons that were innocent and complex.  The error was discovered in the old Department of Education right on the last pay before Christmas which was a large pay in those days that took you over the holiday period and into the next school year.  Their response was simple – don’t say anything to the teacher involved (me) and simply reverse the Christmas salary payment taking out of his (my) bank account the total amount I quite properly needed to pay back.  I was left with virtually nothing.  Well, a few phone calls and that situation was remedied with the pay being restored.

While I had no right to retain the money I had the right to negotiate the manner in which I repaid the amount.  We agreed on an amount and lo and behold on the next pay day when this process was to start I checked my pay and they had swiped a much greater amount out of the cheque.  At that point all automatic procedures were abandoned and we agreed that each fortnight I would post to the Department of Education a cheque for $10.00 (the sums weren’t huge but this was nearly 40 years ago).  Each fortnight I received from the Department of Education a letter posted to me with a receipt for my payment.  If in any week I was a day or two late, I received a letter from the Department of Education requesting my payment in response to which I sent a letter and they sent a letter back.

This arrangement of Gilbertian complexity continued until I had discharged my obligation to put right their mistake.  Thank goodness all this didn’t happen under current conditions when I would have had to battle call centres and suchlike.

The biggest project failure that I enjoyed most was the Defence Force’s purchase of a supply ship that subsequently and after many millions of dollars later proved to be most suitable for shipping oranges around the Mediterranean.  This exceeded any of the stupidities of Captain Mainwaring and his Dad’s Army mob.

In the US the major software developer Geneca reports a survey recently completed, that 75% of business executives anticipate that their IT software projects’ will fail.  This is a serious situation because it is as if the projects are doomed before they start.  Largely the reasons point simply to poor planning.  Perhaps it is a case of the partially sighted (the IT experts) leading the blind (the non-IT expert business leaders).

It is not just the leaders that have been agitated by the Novopay business but pretty well everyone in the schooling sectors.  The majority of those leading the charge will not have been affected in any material way at all – their support for the colleagues that have been is interesting and likely is an extension of a host of other issues.  Once again, the education sectors have chosen protest over leadership in their contribution to an issue.

And where have the teachers’ employers been through all this?  The Boards of Trustees employ all the teachers, their peak body has been notably absent from any public discussion of the issues.

But take heart. Only 1 in 4 IT projects fail – Novopay might turn out to be the one out of four that succeeds or even one of two out of four that don’t make much difference.




The Bridging the Divides Conference

For more information, please contact the Manukau Insitute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, Colleen Young:

E:  [email protected]  or P:  09 968 7631.




Published inMinistry of EducationTechnology

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