Novopay launch 'reckless' when trial showed system not ready

The Education Ministry was warned Novopay was unusable just a fortnight before the school online payroll system's disastrous launch in August.

A survey by the ministry of 731 trial- users of Novopay found only 37 per cent felt they were ready for it, and less than half could see the benefits of the system.

One respondent said the system was "the worst system I have encountered . . . If this is an indication of how un- user friendly this system is then heaven help us all!"

The survey, leaked to the Sunday Star-Times, is dated August 7 - just two weeks before the Novopay system went live nationwide on August 20.

Since then, more than 8000 errors have seen teachers underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all.

Paul Drummond, president of the Principals Federation, said the timing of the survey results showed the ministry had been "reckless" launching a system clearly not ready for use.

"If they proceeded knowing that information then questions have to be asked," he said. "It would clearly show little regard and shows you it would never work. No wonder we are in the monumental debacle we are in."

Drummond has called for an independent review of Novopay and how it was implemented, saying someone needs to be held accountable.

The ministry paid $30 million for Novopay in 2008. Additional operational costs to 2018 mean it will cost more than $100m.

Sandy Pasley, a member of the Payroll Reference Group, last week said Novopay was never piloted because Talent2 misjudged the complexity of the project and the ministry needed to meet deadlines.

Otago University's Professor Robin Gauld, an expert on public sector IT project failures, says that skipping trial runs and pilots in an attempt to meet an impossible deadline has been at the heart of many expensive IT disasters.

Rebecca Elvy, ministry group manager and Novopay business owner, said one of the lessons learned in this implementation is that the ministry should have spent more time and resource supporting schools to get ready for the change.

"We are trying to rectify this now through intensive support for schools, reimbursement of Novopay-related audit and roadshow costs, and the commitment that we will resolve any pay issues directly with affected staff members during the Christmas break.

"The problems schools have experienced with Novopay are the fault of the system and service performance," she said.

But Drummond questioned how the ministry could ignore such damning survey results just weeks out from the launch.

"I would like to know what happened between August [the launch] and the release of that survey, which was 20 days. What possibly could have happened in 20 days to give the ministry confidence to say those statistics were no longer important or had improved."

As part of the survey, 731 principals, administration staff, teachers and relievers from 660 schools responded to the ministry about how well the NovopayBeta, or practice system was doing.

It was the second Novopay Readiness and Engagement survey undertaken by the ministry this year, and results were given to the independent cross-sector payroll reference group.

There were five pages of user-issues including accessing the system, speed, errors, unreliability and service centre support.

Users said: "I am far from confident that the transition will go smoothly and that I will be able to get the help I need from the service desk"; "No I am not ready and I have told Novopay it is their fault and my employees better get paid!!!"; and "I've asked for help via email and waited days for a response, the site is not intuitive and leaves a great [deal] of anxiety for me and my office staff."

The survey also published five positive comments including "Please let it work!", "Thanks for the support so far", and "Good communication, have had no difficulties."

Drummond said although the payroll reference group received a report on the first survey in May, it did not receive the second survey results.

"You could conclude the pressure to release it, amongst the financial pressure of paying two payrolls, may have been too great," he said.

"They had to maintain Novopay as well as the existing one [Datapay] because they had gone past their contracted date and were probably paying a premium.

"The fact they were for some time paying two payrolls may have been an enormous pressure to get this out."

Elvy says the ministry's previous payroll provider maintained its service through the two years that Novopay was delayed.

"This was invaluable in ensuring consistency and business as usual for the schools' payroll," she said. "The provider was very open with us, however, this service was not sustainable. We chose August for Novopay go-live as we needed to get the system well under way before the crucial end-of-year period."

The ministry has no plans to exit its contract with Talent2."

Sunday Star Times