news The Victorian Ombudsman has found that the poor-performing nature of a 15-year-old IT system operated by the State Government has been one of the main contributors to the state losing more than $1.2 billion of revenue from millions of uncollected legal infringement fines. A project to replace the system kicked off in 2007 has not yet delivered on its aims.
This morning, the Office of the Victorian Ombudsman delivered a report stemming from an own motion investigation it had conducted into unenforced warrants in Victoria — fines relating to traffic infringements, but also public order, industry regulation and environmental protection. The main body responsible for enforcing the fines is Infringement and Management and Enforcement Services, which contains the Victorian Sheriff’s office. The report is available online in PDF format.
The report found that since 2005, about two million warrants worth $886 million had been written off as a result of the Sheriff’s office being unable to enforce them. At the moment, there is a pool of 3.5 million warrants worth more than $1.2 billion which remain uncollected; most of which will not be collected before they expire after five years.
In his report, Ombudsman George Brouwer found that one of the main contributors to the state not being able to enforce its fines was what he described as an “inadequate” IT system. Dubbed VIMS for the Victorian Infringement Management System, the platform is maintained by an external provider not named in the report. It is around 15 years old.
The report noted some of the basic difficulties which VIMS faces in being able to fundamentally deliver its intended capabilities. For example, Brouwer noted that the platform was an infringement management system, rather than a debtor management system. This meant that criminal and civil matters relating to an offender were not automatically linked on the system. Only one address per offender could be kept on the system, voiding the ability to track an offender’s address history, and there are delays experienced when large numbers of Sheriff’s officers simultaneously attempt to use the system.
“I sought data from IMES in relation to the 10 offenders with the highest value of outstanding
warrants,” wrote Brouwer. “In particular, I requested details of the offenders’ outstanding warrants and any action taken by IMES or the Sheriff’s Office. It took IMES nine hours to develop the query in VIMS and develop a report in relation to one offender. IMES said that it would take another 4-6 hours to produce the report for each of the other offenders in the top 10.”
“Changes to the system are expensive and difficult. In a briefing to the Attorney-General, dated 23 April 2012, the department noted that VIMS did ‘not enable all the legislative changes made in 2006 (such as garnisheeing wages, charging and selling real property, and transferring liability for warrants to company directors) and any future reforms to the Infringements System could be limited by the cost and time it would take to change the system’. The briefing also stated that these issues were addressed by the new IME system being developed.”
“Another example of VIMS hindering enforcement involves the power available to IMES to direct VicRoads to suspend an offender’s licence or vehicle registration referred to as Registration Non-Renewal (RNR). Limitations with VIMS means that the RNR sanction cannot be used for offenders with more than one warrant.”
The report noted that in 2007 the Victorian Government had entered into a contract with an external provider (reported by iTNews as being Tenix Solutions) to build a replacement for VIMS, dubbed IME. IMES’ original forecasted budget for the project was $45 million. The successful tender, according to Brouwer, was for $24.9 million with a proposed implementation date of August 2009. Nearly four years later the project is still to be completed. Also, the cost of the project has nearly doubled to a projected $44.6 million. The project is now expected to be implemented by the end of 2013.
According to the Ombudsman, the main reason offered for the delay and budget overrun was that
detailed specifications for the system were not developed prior to Victoria entering into a contract with the external provider. A 2009 Ministerial briefing noted that ‘only high level requirements for the system were documented’ and the external provider was contractually required to ‘clarify and document the requirements in detail’.
The news of the Victorian Government’s latest IT problems will not come as a surprise to those who have followed the state’s recent travails with respect to major technology systems, processes and projects. In November 2011, Ombudsman Brouwer handed down one of the most damning assessments of public sector IT project governance in Australia’s history, noting total cost over-runs of $1.44 billion, extensive delays and a general failure to actually deliver on stated aims in 10 major IT projects carried out by the state over the past half-decade.
In February this year, the Victorian State Government released the final version of a new whole of government information and communications technology strategy containing hard deadlines for goals, with which it aims to start addressing extensive IT project and service delivery issues in its departments and agencies. It has also appointed a chief technology advocate, former South Australian Government chief information officer Grantly Mailes.
Honestly, would anything surprise me when it comes to the disastrous state of the IT systems found in the Victorian and Queensland Governments, particularly? No, not at all. It would not surprise me if I received a report from the Victorian Ombudsman stating that VIMS, or a system like it, was run on an Apple II machine in the bottom dungeon of the Victorian Police. Nothing; nothing; would surprise me when it comes to the ridiculously out of date and incompetent nature of these systems.