news Australia’s largest council administration, Brisbane City Council, has revealed an ambitious plan to spend $353 million on a comprehensive new SAP-based business administration platform which will see some 62 legacy systems shut down and replaced with the aid of IT services firm Accenture.
In a statement released this week, Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the “major overhaul” would be undertaken over the next decade, and was expected to generate about $450 million in efficiencies over that period – meaning the benefits of the new system would outweigh its cost by “about $100 million” over that period, if everything goes according to plan.
“Council’s current systems are outdated and need to be brought into the 21st century if we want to cement Brisbane’s reputation as an economic powerhouse in the Asia-Pacific Region,” Quirk said. “To do nothing is not an option. As Lord Mayor my job is to deliver Brisbane ratepayers the best value for money and Council needs to change the way it does business to achieve that. This new system will allow us to create one Council that is seamless to deal with for residents and businesses. Less money tied up in red tape means more money spent on frontline services in our suburbs such as tree trimming, road resurfacing and footpath repair.”
The bulk of the money will be spent in the first three years of the systems’ implementation, with the rest being spread over the rest of the decade. $104 million will be allocated to the project in the 2012/2013 financial year, with the total installation cost expected to be about $194 million. There will also be an operating cost of about $111 million over the total ten-year period.
“It is predicted that it will cost ratepayers about $212 million to run Council’s current outdated systems over the next ten years if nothing is changed,” the council’s statement said.
The new platform is slated to deliver improvements to the council including:
- The elimination of manual timesheets for staff payroll
- The creation of a single staff database
- The creation of a single register of all council assets
- The introduction of mobile devices to staff to allow jobs ranging from pothole repairs to deliveries to be immediately logged in the field
- The coupling of said mobile devices with technology to automatically prioritise work schedules
SAP hasn’t exactly had the best run recently within Queensland’s public sector, with the German software giant’s technology also being used in the disastrous Queensland Health payroll systems implementation. A KMPG audit recently found the project has already cost $417 million and will need some $837 million more to fix over the next five years, in a finding which the state’s new LNP Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said in Parliament several weeks ago illustrated that the project was an “abomination”.
However, it was IBM, Queensland Health itself and government shared services provider Corptech which implemented the project, and very little blame for the disaster has been attached to SAP, with much of the problems with the project relating to governance and business processes, not the specific technology being used. In his statement, Quirk attempted to head off criticism of the SAP platform for the BaSE project before it began.
“Quirk acknowledged SAP was the same brand of software used in the recent Qld Health payroll upgrade,” the council’s statement read. “However he pointed to the former State Labor Government’s own independent report, which found the problem with that rollout lay with Qld Health’s implementation, not SAP’s software. Quirk said Council was also undertaking a different implementation strategy that would see Council change the way it does business to suit the new system, not force the software provider to alter its tried-and-tested product to suit the organisation as Labor did with Qld Health.”
Quirk said Brisbane City Council was being “flexible” in its rollout to ensure that it gets the project right the first time before switching on the new platform, to avoid the same problems Queensland Health suffered. “That said we’ve put in place strict contractual arrangements regarding any potential late delivery or cost increases to ensure we get the best service and value for ratepayers, something Labor and Qld Health also failed to do,” the LNP Lord Mayor said.
In my opinion, this implementation which Brisbane City Council has announced is a recipe for disaster. Any time you try to shut down dozens of legacy systems and migrate the whole shebang onto one huge centralised platform, you’re going to suffer a huge number of roadblocks. While no doubt Accenture, SAP and the council itself are being very careful here, especially because of the disastrous implementation at Queensland Health, I think anyone who expects this implementation to proceed smoothly has not been following recent IT projects within Australia’s public sector.
It is a universal truth now that Australia’s sub-Federal public sector is broadly incapable of successfully delivering on major IT projects; we’ve seen this trend right around Australia recently, from Queensland to NSW, to Victoria and Western Australia, and I do not expect this rollout to be any different. If this deployment is successful, it will be very much an outlier.