20 Mar 2013

'Crazy practices' exposed by Novopay review

8:15 pm on 20 March 2013

Software developer and IT commentator Ben Gracewood says the technical review of the troubled Novopay school payroll system has exposed crazy practices.

The report by the professional services firm Deloitte shows many of the problems that have dogged the system were caused by modifications to the payroll program it is based on.

Mr Gracewood says the report shows common coding practices were not followed during Novopay's development, resolution of problems was ad hoc, and manual changes were made to the system without tracing what those changes were doing.

That, he says, is "just crazy".

Mr Gracewood says the review shows the switch to Novopay - supplied by the Australian company Talent2 - was flawed right from the start.

A journalist for Computer World magazine, Stephen Bell, says it shows Talent2 was fixing problems without making sure the fixes did not cause further issues.

But both commentators say it is still not clear who's ultimately to blame for the Novopay mess.

Off-the-shelf program was 'customised'

Thousands of school staff have been underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all since the Novopay system was introduced last August.

The technical review update released by the Government on Tuesday says most of the problems are due to its being an off-the-shelf payroll program that was customised, and the results are not fit for purpose.

The review has revealed that a backlog of 500 defects is still in the system, including 44 that are very serious.

Deloitte says the core software is unstable but it can be fixed provided more resources are made available. It says Talent2 needs to increase its staffing, including a doubling of business consultants.

Novopay future still in the balance

The minister in charge of Novopay, Steven Joyce, says the Government is still carefully considering the best solution for the error-ridden system and is not simply buying time before doing away with it.

An alternative proposal is being worked up by previous payroll provider Datacom, but Mr Joyce told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon that it's a situation of "getting as quickly as possible to the point where workloads are back to more normal levels - and it's not clear yet which way would achieve that".

A backlog of about 19,000 overpayments, underpayments and non-payments is still to be cleared.

The Government says the number of staff in the Education Ministry's backlog clearance unit will be boosted from 40 to 100 and a new payroll unit will be set up in the ministry.

Mr Joyce has said he expects there will be some recompense from Talent2 for what schools and the Government have spent.

Compensation only a start, say principals

Some school principals say the compensation to help them cope with Novopay problems is a good start but others call it inadequate.

The Government announced on Tuesday a $6 million compensation package to help schools struggling with Novopay errors, bringing the cost of fixing the system to $11 million so far.

Under the scheme each school will get $500 plus $105 per teacher to make up for additional costs they are incurring.

Kaikohe East School principal Chicky Rudkin says the $1800 her school will receive does not come close to making up for the time and effort put into fixing problems, and she's disappointed the Government has not sacked Talent2.

The principal of Avondale College in Auckland, Brent Lewis, says the compensation is a good start but the more pressing issue is fixing the backlog of mistakes.

The head of Christchurch's Linwood Avenue School, Gerard Direen, says half his staff have had mistakes with their pay and a recently retired caretaker had gone without pay for three months.

He also says the compensation fails to recognise the extra burden on Christchurch schools.