Novopay boss infuriates teachers

Schools have hit back at suggestions they may be in any way culpable for problems with the Education Ministry's Novopay payroll system.

John Rawlinson, chief executive of Australian company Talent2, which build and runs Novopay, broke his silence on the troubled $100 million system yesterday.

He said a lack of skills and training as well as Novopay's less-than-optimal user-interface had led many school administrators to choose to phone or fax the information needed to pay teachers to Novopay's data centres, rather than submit that data automatically online.

That had overloaded Novopay's service centres, contributing to an unacceptable level of human errors.

Chris Foote, executive officer at Otahuhu College, said that explanation made him furious. 

Foote has been a school representative on the Education Ministry's Novopay reference group for two years and said he had championed Novopay when waiting for it with bated breath.

"We really wanted it to work because we could see how it could help us."

But he said schools had deluged the service centres with paper because the automated systems for filing information provided by Novopay "just didn't work".

"It was erroring all the time, postings wouldn't validate, it would dump you out, and nothing would work so we had to resort to paper, which then overloaded the poor people. And we are terribly sorry about that," he said.

"For Rawlinson to come out and say it is our fault because we didn't do the training is nonsense."

Muritai Primary School principal Andrew Bird said Rawlinson's comments were outrageous and "defamatory of the hundreds of school secretaries who have put their heart and soul into making sure that staff are paid with such poor service from the Talent2 team, and indeed the Ministry of Education.

"My executive officer has never made an online error in terms of loading information, was well trained and understood all that was required of her before we went online, and the errors at the other end do not match the entries that have been made," he said.

Foote said it should become apparent on December 11 whether there would be major problems with teachers' holiday pay following the annual reconciliation of pay and leave.

Holiday payslips were due to go out on December 12 but teachers who had registered email addresses would be emailed the information the day beforehand. 

Schools should get reports showing their staffing usage and expenditure on December 7, but there was no guarantee they would be accurate, he said.

"Until someone walks into my office and says 'my pay has been cocked up', I don't know."

Rawlinson yesterday acknowledged there was a lot of nervousness among schools about the year-end process, which he said he could understand. Education Ministry secretary Lesley Longstone had told schools she had full confidence all Christmas payments would go through as expected, he said.

"She was looking me in the eye when she said that and I was nodding my head."

He was confident Novopay would prove a better system than the 15 year-old Datacom-build Datapay payroll system it replaced.

"Unless someone tells me differently we don't want to go back to what we had, which was highly inefficient and very manual. I would think this time next year there would be a high degree of online transaction processing and that schools would be getting real benefit," he said.