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).