The Dim-Post

February 4, 2013

The Novopay BIM

Filed under: education,Politics — danylmc @ 9:35 am

TVNZ and Radio New Zealand have done a couple of stories reporting on the leaked Briefing to the Incoming Minister (BIM) which the Ministry of Education supplied to Steven Joyce about the Novopay debacle. They’ve focused on the Ministry’s warning that Novopay could take 1-2 years to get working properly. I’ve also received a copy of this document, and I was more interested in the Ministry’s summary of what actually went wrong. Briefly:

  • Novopay is designed so that schools do everything online (presumably through a browser or thin client). When the platform was launched there were ‘significant issues’ with the online user interface (UI); for example, it wasn’t possible to submit time-sheets for part-time teachers.
  • The work-around for problems submitting payments via the UI was for the schools to fill in a form and submit it to Talent2’s Novapay service desk via e-mail, and they’d manually enter the payment data into the system.
  • But the service desk wasn’t staffed or trained for this – they were supposed to be supporting an online platform in which the schools did almost everything themselves. So this created a huge backlog of manual payments for them to enter, many of which missed the payrolls.
  • The service center also generated a vast number of errors in payments because it doesn’t have ‘robust quality assurance’ (I take this to mean there’s no verification when service center staff manually submit data: so if someone is being paid $20/hour and they work for ten hours, the manual system won’t prevent a service center staffer from accidentally paying them $2.00)
  • Talent2 aren’t able to produce complete draft payrolls for the schools to QA, so these errors aren’t picked up before the payroll data goes live.
  • The briefing is contradictory on the state of the programming defects in Novopay. The background summary insists that the problems leading to the huge submission of manual forms have been fixed, but in a subsequent section on software defects the Minister is told that new defects continue to come to light, and Talent2 have been unable to fix the existing problems. (I get the feeling they’ve been relying on manual work-arounds, rather than debugging the actual code.)

The Ministry’s solution is to put more resources into the service center while Talent2 fixes up software bugs via a release code schedule (I get the impression the extra software engineering cost is being met by the Ministry).


  1. Not able to submit timesheets for part-timers? WTF? I hope that Talent2 get taken to the cleaners over this.

    Comment by swan — February 4, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  2. I’d like to see who was responsible for signing off requirements, design and UAT as the MoE seem to be playing awfully nice for a client who has been so wronged.

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — February 4, 2013 @ 9:45 am

  3. It truly is a debacle on a monumental scale and yet we are still to see any heads roll – what IS it with this government?

    Comment by Dianne - SaveOurSchoolsNZ — February 4, 2013 @ 10:22 am

  4. I just read a letter by Craig Foss, one of the exminister who signed off Novapay, to the editor of Hawkes Bay Today, local paper, how he thinks Hawkes Bay should be more positive about towing more of Key and National’s incompetence. He has no credibility since he has caused this castastrophie. No heads have rolled because Key is blaming the “advisors” that we paid so hamsomely for. Key and the ministers take no responsibility. Get ready to pay more out of our pockets because of Key and Foss’s blunder. There are so many past and present blunders and again Key does not take responsibility. I think he is holding on because his agenda is to sell off New Zealand to foreigners and Corporate iwi. We’ll be so much into debt, our sovereignty will be gone. Courtesy of John Key, Wall Street money trader.

    Comment by Jack — February 4, 2013 @ 10:49 am

  5. Lesley Longstone’s head has rolled

    Comment by swan — February 4, 2013 @ 11:09 am

  6. Do the papers say anything about cats being evil? That’s all I care about.

    Comment by Me Too — February 4, 2013 @ 11:38 am

  7. Swan, yes, I stand corrected. Longstone did get the axe. We still have Parata, Key, Foss, and English left. Me Too, good point. I was thinking something very similar when I saw the Movie Titantic. How awful it must have been for those warf rats on the Titanic.

    Comment by Jack — February 4, 2013 @ 11:53 am

  8. im no longstone supporter (im firmly of the opinion she was brought out here to do an ideological job) but she does appear to have been the scapegoat or scarificial er.. (i wont use lamb here) – rather than the person responsible for the novopay debacle.

    So yeah, her head rolled, but others should be joining her. Longstone being sacked so therefore taking the hit for all this does has shades of McCullyism to it

    Comment by framu — February 4, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

  9. the Ministry’s solution is to put more resources into the service center while Talent2 fixes up software bugs via a release code schedule

    I do feel this is the only way out, really. The alternative of hiring a 14 year old alleged coding genius to rebuild the whole thing using Ruby/NOSQL/node.js/general AI wouldn’t be likely to yield good results.

    These sort of outcomes are inevitable with the arms-length, adversarial model of software development. Sometimes things work out, but often they don’t.

    Comment by dubiousinsider — February 4, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

  10. “When the platform was launched there were ‘significant issues’ with the online user interface (UI); for example, it wasn’t possible to submit time-sheets for part-time teachers”

    Does the BIM say how this was not regarded as a significant problem by those approving go-live?

    Comment by Sacha — February 4, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

  11. Did I hear on the news correctly that the Test Summary Report highlighted over 140 defects that needed to be addressed prior to go-live?

    Sounds like whoever signed of use case acceptance didn’t have an appropriate understanding of risk mitigation (i.e. who actually pays in terms of $ and reputation if the solution goes tits).

    The ‘golden triangle’ adage of development always holds true: Aim to meet time, cost and quality but accept from the get-go that you’ll probably only hit one at the expense of the other two.

    Comment by Gregor W — February 4, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

  12. “The ‘golden triangle’ adage of development always [?] holds true: Aim to meet time, cost and quality but accept from the get-go that you’ll probably only hit one at the expense of the other two.”

    except when you completely mega-epic-fail at all three. congratulations to all concerned

    Comment by nommopilot — February 4, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

  13. @nomnompilot: Or the Telco engineers variant of the same – “fast, reliable, cheap – pick any two”.

    Comment by Sanctuary — February 4, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

  14. Indeed Sanc.

    It’s an adaptation of the old PSTN engineering adage, modified to accept that once you enter the opaque realm of outsourcing – away from in-house business analysis and engineering expertise (with the associated accountability) – two out of three becomes ‘aspirational’.

    Comment by Gregor W — February 4, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  15. why not hire out prison labour to do the data entry? – everybody wins.

    Comment by amc32 — February 4, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

  16. And yes Nommo; always.
    In 15+ years I have yet to witness a development project land on time, cost and quality as scoped without some form of variation.

    The only logical inference I can draw from this is that (a) I have an inherent observation bias and/or (b) by virtue of my existence alone I am a pervasive, global and catastrophic system SPoF (Single Point of Failure).

    Comment by Gregor W — February 4, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

  17. It seems like being a Ministerial advisor is becoming a high risk position. I just hope that the advisors are paid a sufficient sum, since they are apparently making decisions with no ministerial input and effectively overriding ministers (since the minister, as we’ve seen, aren’t responsible for the decisions their advisors make).

    Comment by Hugh — February 4, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

  18. Make the kids do it after all they won’t be getting any meaningful education while their teachers are worried about paying the mortgage on time.

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — February 4, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

  19. The other thing I’d point out is that most online systems get around the corner cases by avoiding them. Try booking an AirNZ flight with non-codeshare on another alliance airline (like going via Singapore). Or opening a bank account for a trust.

    The problem generally devolves to having a human with some sort of superuser access making the changes. (Airline CRS have a whole command line UI for this purpose).

    Trying to go live with every business rule implemented for the walk-up user is unusual.

    Comment by dubiousinsider — February 4, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

  20. Paying part-timers is not an edge case in NZ schools. How it got through to go-live would be interesting to know.

    Comment by Sacha — February 4, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

  21. So how many part time teachers are there? Shouldn’t be hard to find out. And therefore there should have been enough Talent2 staff to process their pay. There wasn’t? That’s just incompetent.

    Comment by MeToo — February 4, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

  22. that does seem like a weird aspect of this story – the fact that Talent2 claims they weren’t told about the number of relievers who did part-time work for several different schools seems very odd.

    Are we to assume that the Ministry didn’t know how many relievers they employed? Or just that they didn’t feel it was relevant?

    Comment by LucyJH — February 4, 2013 @ 9:14 pm

  23. the timeline a given by Stuff:

    In 2004 the ministry requested tenders for a new schools payroll provider after a 2003 review of operations found the current provider Datacom posed a high risk.

    The contract was given to Talent2 in 2005. An independent review the same year found Datacom’s payroll had been upgraded and was no longer “high risk”, so plans were scrapped.

    Tenders were requested again in 2007 when Datacom announced it would not be maintaining its payroll after 2011.

    Eleven tenders were received for the $30 million contract including Datacom which proposed the Peoplesoft payroll, and Talent2, which proposed its own Novopay system and subsequently took the taxpayer-funded contract in 2008.

    It was clear Talent2 had underestimated the contract by 2010 after it failed to meet numerous targets, delaying Novopay’s go-live for two years.

    Under pressure from the sector, the ministry launched the payroll in August 2012 despite knowing it was defective and would not pay teachers correctly.

    With Datacom offering Peoplesoft I can understand why the govt went elsewhere. It seems to me to be a matter of what contingency plan the govt could and/or should have had in the event Talent2 under-performed.

    Comment by NeilM — February 4, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

  24. it seems the ministry cocked up royally.

    Comment by titsonabull — February 4, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

  25. #23 Neil: what’s the problem with Peoplesoft?

    Comment by Scintilla — February 5, 2013 @ 12:55 am

  26. “…what’s the problem with Peoplesoft..?”

    PS is a bit like SAP – once they’ve got you by the balls the protection racket run by Oracle would make the most hardened mafia Don blush.

    Comment by Sanctuary — February 5, 2013 @ 9:21 am

  27. So it’s another example of the ‘arcane and complicated software package that purportedly does everything and locks you in forevermore’ business model?

    Comment by Conrad — February 5, 2013 @ 10:01 am

  28. Are we getting a refund from PWC?

    Comment by Owen — February 5, 2013 @ 10:16 am

  29. “Are we getting a refund from PWC?” Yes it’s right next to the refund from Lehmans, NZ First and the 4th Labour Govt.

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — February 5, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

  30. A system like this needs a business analysis process that accurately translates current practice / obligations into a requirements document that can be used to – reliably – develop a functional specification. From the functional specification will from development specs…..and out of that comes software which is then tested against the functional spec, the requirements and – finally – in test runs on live data. For a huge system, you’d run it in parallel as much as possible to see what works and what doesn’t. This is absolutely the very last chance to pick up flaws that may reach right back into the business analysis process (which should have been picked up a competent group of test analysts verifying the assumptions and details of the original requirements documents and certainly the functional spec). That this system went live broken as badly as it clearly is says that at every stage the “rigour” just wasn’t there. “She’ll be right” software development….probably unintentionally….but the details don’t get out of hand unless you allowed them to.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — February 5, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

  31. A system like this needs a business analysis process that accurately translates current practice / obligations into a requirements document that can be used to – reliably – develop a functional specification.

    Shut up, Steve – your just talking sense here.

    Any half decent inhouse UML modelling – expensive up front but worth it – should have given MoE enough understanding to go to market to get a COTS payroll solution.
    Payroll is not rocket surgery and they are not a unique business.
    Instead, I suspect this process was short-circuited to become a sales beauty contest where the unofficial outcome – “Get rid of Datacom” – was predetermined.

    Comment by Gregor W — February 5, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

  32. The NOVA Pay shambles is a deliberate plot. Mr Joyce will look very serious as he examines cause and effect then he will announce a fresh glorious solution.
    A lump of money will be given to each school and they will manage all the payments in-house. Bulk Funding you say? No. A solution to a problem that bothers schools and Mr Joyce will be celebrated as a Hero.

    Comment by xianmac — February 5, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

  33. @lucy

    About 20% of teachers employed by schools are part time. That excludes relief teachers. Numbers are a easily found Not sure why this was a surprise.

    Novapay may heave been pushed too early because datacom had been pushing to shut down their old system for some time. They were finding it harder and harder to staff the school support

    Comment by insider — February 5, 2013 @ 11:36 pm

  34. I just checked to see who the education minister when Talen2 were signed up. It was Chris Carter.

    Comment by NeilM — February 6, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

  35. i fear xianmac is onto something… it actually makes sense as a solution and would suit the govt to a tee.

    Comment by MeToo — February 6, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

  36. Meetoo recreates some warped mccarthism….

    Comment by titsonabull — February 6, 2013 @ 11:11 pm

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