Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
A computer software engineering specialist says it would
be easier to dump the Novopay payroll system and rebuild it
from scratch than repair its compounding problems.
Otago Polytechnic information technology senior lecturer Tom
Clark said there were many details about the ''fiasco'' he
was not privy to, but believed conclusions could still be
Based on his software engineering experience in companies
around the United States, including development of the online
video systems at the PBS television network, he believed
there was no reason to expect Talent2 would ever resolve
Novopay's problems satisfactorily.
He said it was normal for some problems to surface after the
launch of a major software system, but not to the level
associated with Novopay.
''The problems we are seeing are so pervasive that they
should have been caught during any credible quality assurance
''This means that either Talent2 does not have a functioning
quality assurance process or, if they do, then they launched
this system knowing that it was not suitable for use.
''Neither of these are problems that can be remedied in a
reasonable amount of time - if at all.
''It's probably a more difficult task to fix it than it would
be to rebuild it from scratch.''
It was also possible the project requirements provided to
Talent2 were faulty, but it did not excuse the company's
performance, he said.
''Problems with project specifications should be identified
and resolved early in the software engineering process.
''Perhaps we can salvage something of value from this failure
by producing a case study that I can use to show my students
how a software project can go wrong.''
University of Otago computer science lecturer and software
engineer Dr Richard O'Keefe said that based on his experience
in Silicon Valley, it was well known most large-scale
computer programmes were ''disasters'', and he was concerned
the Government and Talent2 had not planned for problems with
He said the Government suffered similar embarrassment when
the New Zealand Police Incis computer system ran several
years and millions of dollars over budget. It was eventually
scrapped in 1999.
''If you are building a large system, you expect there to be
problems,'' Dr O'Keefe said.
''The standard technique for dealing with large project
rollouts is to roll it out cautiously - roll it out in small
geographical areas and always have the old system ready to
restore fast to take over if there are problems.
''You should have people sitting by phones ready to take
calls for help, and in this case, they should have set a
budget for paying teachers' wages until the problems were
Dr O'Keefe said Microsoft had been very successful over the
years because it never built a successful large-scale system
- it built a small one and grew it.
''If you are a responsible programmer, you get a dreadful
fear when people's lives are involved. You worry about what
you will do if it doesn't work.''
Dr O'Keefe hoped there would be an inquiry into the problems
with Novopay, and wanted university software engineering and
testing experts involved.
A spokesman for minister in charge of Novopay Steven Joyce
said it was too early for Mr Joyce to comment yesterday
because he had only been given responsibility for Novopay on
''The minister needs to talk to all the key parties involved
to gain a clear understanding of the issues.
''It is important he be given time to look into this, ask
questions and then make his own assessments.''
2007: Talent2 wins $30 million tender to create Novopay
August 2012: Novopay rolled out and complaints
received from teachers and support staff about being
underpaid, overpaid or unpaid. September
2012:Secretary for Education Lesley Longstone orders
Novopay Governance Board to identify issues and address
October 2012: Ministry of Education staff meet Otago
Primary Principals' Association to further discuss Novopay
November 2012: Ministry of Education provides Novopay
system training to school principals and
November 2012: Retail banks offer school staff
interest-free overdrafts in wake of continuing
December 2012: New Zealand Principals' Federation asks
Office of the Auditor-general to conduct an independent
investigation into Novopay.
January 2013: Economic Development Minister Steven
Joyce takes over handling of the Novopay system.