Avoiding future ICT disasters:
Qld outlines next steps



news The Queensland Government today stated that it would accept all four major recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into the Queensland Health payroll disaster, with the state’s LNP administration already taking action to stop other projects going off the rails in a similarly catastrophic manner.

The project was first kicked off in late 2007, when Queensland Health determined there was a need to look at a new payroll platform to replace the previous platform, based on Lattice and ESP software, which had been progressively implemented from 1996. Partially as a result of the fact that the state had decided to standardise on SAP’s ECC5 and Infor’s Workbrain software across its whole of government operations, those same platforms were picked for the Queensland Health implementation.

However, the project, implemented by prime contractor IBM, Queensland Health itself and government shared services provider Corptech — quickly went off the rails as poor governance and the complexity of Queensland Health’s award system kicked in, with the result that many of Queensland Health’s 85,000 workers went without pay for a period, or were overpaid, at various periods from early 2010, when the system went live. The LNP administration in Queensland recently announced additional funding of the project of $384 million, taking total project costs to an estimated $1.25 billion.

A report published by a Commission of Inquiry (PDF) set up to investigate the payroll systems disaster recently made four key recommendations: To institute forward planning for all existing legacy systems within the Queensland Government; To pay specific attention to what lessons may be learned from the failure of the project; To apply a more appropriate project governance structure to oversee large ICT projects; And to kick off planning for the replacement of the Queensland Health payroll system immediately, including requesting assistance from Mater Health Services, which has recently successfully finalised the rollout of a similar system.

Today in the Queensland Parliament, the state’s ICT Minister Ian Walker tabled the Government’s response to the the Commission of Inquiry recommendations. “The Newman government has implemented a robust accountability framework to ensure the mistakes of the past are never repeated again,” Walker told the Parliament.

Walker said firstly, the Queensland Government had already completed a risk assessment of all legacy ICT systems currently used by the state.

“Reliance on legacy systems is a significant issue for the whole government,” the Minister said. “To achieve ICT asset stabilisation, each department has put in place safeguards in the form of risk assessments and contingency and succession plans for their identified high-risk systems. I have asked each department to report on the status of their planning by the end of October this year.”

Secondly, Walker said his department was currently “compiling all of the unfortunate lessons learnt from the Health payroll debacle”. These lessons would be fed into the Government’s new accountability framework, he said. “This additional layer of assurance will provide a safety net to identify, catch and deal with issues as they arise.”

In terms of project governance for future projects, Walker said, he had already outlined a robust accountability framework in the government’s ICT strategy and would provide further details “in about a week’s time” when he released Queensland’s ICT action plan.

“These documents will reinforce the Newman government’s commitment to follow best practice project management principles when investing in ICT,” the Minister said. “This approach will also ensure that all significant ICT investments will be subject to a universal set of project management principles regardless of the agency that is making the investment.”

“By adhering to this framework, there will be no confusion over who is accountable for the delivery of specific business outcomes. Agencies will be responsible for the successful delivery of their own investments. However, they will receive support from my department. It is also essential to note that agencies will not be permitted to make significant ICT investment until I have reviewed and authorised the business case.”

Lastly, with regard to the future of the Queensland Health payroll system, Walker said the Government would establish a Queensland Health payroll planning group to be chaired by the head of Queensland Health.

“Those opposite had a number of years to resolve this debacle but failed miserably,” the Minister said, referring to the Labor Party. “They should be ashamed of the mess that they left for Queensland. I stand in the House today with a commitment to transform the way the state government invests in and manages ICT. This approach is consistent with the recommendations of the Queensland Health Payroll System Commission of Inquiry to ensure that all ICT investments are carried out with risk management at the forefront.”

Walker’s comments come several months after a landmark ICT audit conducted by the state found that ninety percent of the Queensland Government’s ICT systems were outdated and will require replacement within five years at a total cost of $7.4 billion, as Queensland continues to grapple with the catastrophic outcome of years of “chronic underfunding” into its dilapidated ICT infrastructure.

Queensland’s making all the right moves right now when it comes to reforming its ICT systems and processes, but it has a long way to go yet. I’m reserving judgement on its progress until we see it start to successfully deliver new ICT projects. Walker’s saying all the right things … but what’s important here, as the recent ICT audit dramatically emphasised, is action, not words.

Image credit: Office of Ian Walker


  1. the ways to avoid future ICT disasters in qld government are;
    * maintain legacy systems rather than focussing on the politics of launching something new
    * less rewrites – there is a reason facebook is still sticking on php – rewrites are expensive and rarely capture all the business logic of the previous version
    * develop a single place for the current status of each system, including ideas for improvements and a roadmap
    * collect and include user satisfaction in this status board
    * have an honest discussion about the roadmap based on the current status and requirements rather than pre-selecting products and then making the requirements fit
    * break projects into smaller steps with gates at each step. do not let the project continue if a gate is not passed
    * focus on contract management and have some accountability on success/failure of projects. bonuses should apply.
    * engage and retain smart people. don’t sack large parts of the ICT workforce in the name of budget cuts only to hire them back at higher rates as contractors who are pissed off that they lost their jobs in the first place.
    * hire problem solvers to liaise between teams and break down the silo effect

    • All good points.

      In summary you are saying that government should avoid behaving like a government… which is difficult.

    • Does the Qld Gov’t owe you $32 million for your concise report now? :-/

      More seriously though, don’t forget Kaizen, or the “1%” principle – that is;
      Allow everyone in the organisation the ability to give feedback or provide insights on any system, and investigate all ideas. Those that can be done at a justifiable cost, even if they only provide a 1% cost saving or 1% productivity boost should be implemented. If only 1 idea is taken all the way to production each month, the company should see double digits gains each year.

  2. So now “health payroll” is the silver bullet answer for any questionable spending, outsourcing and ICT strategy all it needs is a “free kick” sign.

  3. If they’d only implement a few of those ideas, queensland would be a better place.

    I’ve never heard of the Kaizen principle, but I don’t think it would work because it takes more than a month to get changes into production with a lot of these systems! I like it though, that response is half tongue in cheek.

    for it to work, there needs to be two key things
    1) each system needs a roadmap (high level, just a set of goals that it’s meant to achieve)
    2) the mindset needs to change – change is inevitable in ICT, change management needs to be streamlined. design all systems so that they can be updated quickly, and so problems can be identified quickly. It’s not scary to break something, as long as it can be reverted quickly and prevented from happening again.

  4. The issue is with how the public service is run. It is one area where the liberal mindset could get it right but the seem to be too caught up with the cut spending no matter the cost. It come down to three issue how you fund, how you measure success or failure and how you hold those responsible for success or failure to account. In the private sector is basically comes down to you get money from your customers you are a success if you make a profit, an those responsible and held to account by either (big failure)going bankrupt or getting the sack or (success yah) bonus, pay increases or other dis/incentives. Your funding is tied very much to your success or failure.

    There are ways to do this within the public sector, the most obvious one is to the tie the funding to service delivery and reward those who exceed targets.Funding seems to be tied to what was provided last year, with an incentive to spend more to ensue you don’t lose funding next year. By linking funding to services delivery it means as services increase(servicing more people or new services) funding increase organically as demand increases and the department and just spending money in slow years to ensure funding when you need it will stop.

    The reason it won’t happen is because Polis won’t be able to say we are providing X funding for foo. If IT project X or Road project Y run on time,budget achieved its goals or was even needed in the first place doesn’t really matter that much to Poli who gets to stand in front of a camera and say ‘Our party is providing three hundred million dollars to upgrade the highway is this electric to increase tourist number and reduce congestion’ or ‘This two billion dollar IT project will create jobs and save the government a billion dollars a year once complete’.

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