Novopay – what went wrong

February 5th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Danyl McL has a useful summary of what went wrong with . His summary is:

  • 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 anonline 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)

The failure of the user interface seems key. If that was working properly then schools would be entering all the data directly and more importantly being able to see a draft payroll batch and confirm it is correct.

The moment you can’t do that, and you have manual entries, help desks and the like and it turns into a logistical nightmare considering there are 100,000 pays per fortnight.

The inquiry will no doubt look into why the UI was not working before launch. Stuff reports:

Sir Maarten Wevers, the former boss of the Department of the Prime Minister is to head a Ministerial Inquiry into the botched handling of Novopay education payroll system.

Steven Joyce, who now has ministerial responsibility for Novopay announced that Sir Martin would head the $500,000 inquiry along with Murray Jack, chairman of Deloitte in New Zealand.

Can’t do much better than those two. I doubt they will sugar-coat anything.

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64 Responses to “Novopay – what went wrong”

  1. Mark (1,488 comments) says:

    According to Joyce the novopay system had known flaws when it was signed off by the Minister of Education, Associate Minister of Education and Finance Minister based upon advice from their consultants. We all know that new systems have start up issues but in this case they have been pretty fundamental. So apart from getting this thing fixed or canning it surely there needs to be a very hard look at the advice the government received and whether it was competent advice and also whether the ministers followed that advice or ignored the warnings.

    It seems to be looking more and more like a system that needs to be dumped but I guess that will all come out of the enquiry

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  2. Vinick (216 comments) says:

    Considering Sir Maarten was appointed in 2004 by Helen Clark (and served under her and John Key), these are absolutely disgraceful comments from Labour’s Education Spokesman:

    Chris Hipkins ‏@chrishipkins
    Former head of PM’s dept hardly an ‘independent’ head for inquiry into #Novopay. Should be someone from outside the public service.

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  3. voice of reason (490 comments) says:

    Taht doesn’t ring completely true – If it was just the UI then it should have been sorted in the first couple of weeks. Seems that the underlying code doesn’t allow for this type of data to be processed properly and the Talent2 (oxymoron) staff are now doing some kind of cludge during manual data entry just to get the data in and to teh point where it can be processed.

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  4. mikemikemikemike (324 comments) says:

    Half a million for an inquiry – you’re having a laugh surely?!?…..Can someone please take a genuine attempt at justifying that?

    – Why could they not have rolled back to the previous system? A system with that many faults going live should have had a rollback. Any muppet who couldn’t see that going live with a system with as many issues as that while having no contingency plan not only deserves to lose their job but should be done for negligence surely!!

    You’ve got to ask yourself what really is going on when things can get this bad but are still be persisted with. Christ would anyone here buy a car with hundreds of known faults keep trying to drive said vehicle knowing it will break down every two weeks, and then wait for an official inquiry to finish before finally admitting that maybe you should look at buying from a different dealer?

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  5. voice of reason (490 comments) says:

    mikemikemikemike
    “..Why could they not have rolled back to the previous system..”

    The previous system was provided by an other vendor Datacom – whose contract had ended.
    Novopay was supposed to save money over Datacom in part by way of having School staff entering all the data.
    I undersatand previously Datacom entered info that was faxed, emailed etc to them by schools.

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  6. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    I’ve been involved in system rollouts like this. It will be interesting how the report comes out, but my guess would be something similar to most projects that have problems like this:
    1. The test cases didn’t have wide enough coverage (but the coverage was signed off / approved by someone, who didn’t realise that was an important thing)
    2. There were known defects on go-live, but all the sev-1 defects were resolved, and there were legitimate workaround plans for the sev-2s plus a plan to fix them within a specified period
    3. There was significant pressure from the Ministry to meet the date so as to avoid embarrassing the Minister. The people managing the project didn’t really understand IT well enough to explain to the Minister the potential embarrassment from cocking it up (i.e. too scared to tell the blunt truth)
    4. There is user error (or training issues, or insufficient validation on the UI, depending on how you look at things) where people aren’t entering their timesheets properly, then complaining about not getting paid properly
    5. Everyone involved was well intentioned, they genuinely thought it could work out well.

    Most projects are like this. Sometimes you get blind sided by a couple of extra things around go-live, and then it comes down in a screaming heap. Most times the plans you’ve made come out OK.

    The real question here is how long it takes to get the error rate down to something approximating the previous system. The problem is, once you get bad publicity like this then it’s hard to recover. Everyone’s so busy piling on that nobody asks the question “what does good enough look like.” Instead, even one error per pay period gets blown out of proportion.

    Qld Health payroll is a good example of how bad it can be – a $60M project now projected to maybe finish for $1B. And I think it’s PWC who picked up the remediation, they’re not known for systems work. But nobody else would touch it. And they’re working time and materials, no obligation, for about $180M. Amazing.

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  7. peterwn (3,271 comments) says:

    Unbelievable! System signed off with a core feature missing – those who advised the responsible ministers need a big kick in the backside – the ministers can hardly be expected to personally check out the system. A couple of schools should have been asked to check out the UI at an early stage with the Ministry paying overtime to the staff concerned if need be.

    Like a USA police station that took 911 calls and dispatched police or firefighters as need be. The power went off and the standby generator would not start – it needed mains power for the fuel pump.

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  8. Elaycee (4,392 comments) says:

    peterwn: Indeed, it is inexcusable that there was not a full trial completed within a small (test) group, before this system went nationwide.

    Business 101: Fail.

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  9. mikemikemikemike (324 comments) says:

    @Voice of Reason – “The previous system was provided by an other vendor Datacom – whose contract had ended.” – I’ve worked on many projects where there is no existing support contract for the outgoing platform. A contingency in this case is for the business to wear a T&M cost until the bulk of the risk of the new implementation has been mitigated. Why this could not have been done here is still a mystery to me.

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  10. Peter (1,712 comments) says:

    Even if the supplier was hopeless (not saying they are – I don’t know) the project appears to have been badly managed.

    The supplier should have been delivering functionality in chunks. Each chuck should have had a contingency. So, when it comes to roll out, your risk is not the entire system, but the last chunk of functionality.

    Heads should roll at the Ministry.

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  11. BeaB (2,123 comments) says:

    Vinick
    And even more inexcusable when you consider Hipkins was an education adviser on the staff of Chris Carter who as the Minister of Education originally signed up to Novopay. Has anyone asked him what he knew about it at the time? And what advice he helped prepare for the Minister? Could be a great little story.

    Datacom however was far from perfect and often made errors.

    School staff doing the online work for Novopay obviously needed much more training and handholding.

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  12. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    Exactly what I have been saying all along. The schools should be entering the data themselves and responsible for their own errors. There is absolutely no good reason for Talent2 to be entering any data or in fact to have any access to it. That is a flagrant breach of proper security and access control.

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  13. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    Nothing new in the world.
    The Aussies went through exactly the same thing as long ago as the 1970s, with a system the Australian Public Service called “Mandata”. Mandata was eventually mothballed after years of investment, and never producing one piece of valid data.
    Back then of course the costs were measured in the millions, while now we throw billions around in their place. So, New Zealand, you are not alone.

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  14. RightNow (6,994 comments) says:

    Fun reading from before the crap hit the fan:
    http://www.nasdap.org.nz/PDFs/minutes/mins_term1_2012.pdf

    GUEST SPEAKERS – NOVOPAY
    Novopay is the new Payroll system that is being introduced in August this year to replace the
    existing Datacom service. Leanne Gibson is the senior executive in the Ministry responsible for
    the delivery of Novopay.

    Leanne Gibson introduced the team she had bought with her and gave a brief outline of what
    Novopay was.
    Guest Speakers were : Gary Billingham, the Novopay Business Change Project Manager;
    Cheryl Hasse, the Novopay Paycentre Manager, Tanya Benfell, a Novopay Business Consultant,
    and Chris Randall, Manager, the Education Services Payroll Manager.

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  15. Paulus (2,626 comments) says:

    Datacom as a company could not wait to ditch the Education Dept pay system.
    It was all hand written, paper driven, with faxes.
    Novopay is reliant on a computer based system and depends upon the “skill” of the inputter.
    Obviously the input system needs to be more tailored to the staff inputting the correctn data.
    Part of the problem is that the system of pay has something like 13 Union agreementsand as many as 10,000 permutations.
    Am I able to assume that the Education Dept Payroll section had no input into the specification ?
    If they were would they not have some user advice or comments, or did they not want to know any changes to their labour intensive manual system.
    I understand that many mistakes were also made over the Datacom years, but that verbal contact usually tidied up.
    Answer – back to bulk pay funding so each school can do its own, correct, thing.

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  16. tvb (4,418 comments) says:

    I suspect this system was obtained very cheaply so the Ministers that approved it decided to take a risk even though there were some known faults. It has turned out the be very expensive quite apart from the hardship that has been caused teaching staff.

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  17. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    tvb: this isn’t off the shelf software.

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  18. voice of reason (490 comments) says:

    ” Alan Wilkinson (1,420) Says:
    Exactly what I have been saying all along. The schools should be entering the data themselves and responsible for their own errors”

    Alan, how can they enter the necessary data if the interface doesn’t allow entry for part time teachers?

    Quite telling from Rightnow’s march 2012 link is these paragraphs below:

    “The issue here is that the Novopay service is limited to those employees employed by the School
    Board of Trustees. …… Hostel staff often do not meet these criteria and so the school has to make separate payroll
    arrangements.”

    “A spreadsheet can be uploaded into Novopay.
    File specifications will be provided to the developers of 3rd party software so that they can
    ensure that the output they produce is compatible with the new Novopay solution”

    “The training might not need to be as great as you think if it is an intuitive system.”

    Sounds like vapourware to me .. “3rd party software” “can ensure that” “is compatible”
    tell-tale phrases those

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  19. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

    I noted what Joyce said last night.
    There is going to the need for major changes somewhere.

    Perhaps in the number of awards and permutations of those awards.
    There is no need for Govt. to spend money on payroll systems. It already has a bunch in use elsewhere and one wonders why with both that option, which could have been used, and plenty of private suppliers why they needed to spend taxpayers money like this.

    Still Govt. CEO’s get highly paid for making this dumb and stupid type of decision.

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  20. lastmanstanding (1,293 comments) says:

    I gotta laugh. Back in the early 1970s one of my first jobs was paying 150 weekly paid staff who were under about a dozen different Unions and therefore awards all with complex allowances boot money tool money meal money etc etc plus complicated overtime with meal allowances. I used to get their time sheets first thing Wednesday morning ( they were paid from wednesday to Tuesday) and had to manually calculate using the good ole Kalamazoo paper system. I had a day to do this as the cash had to arrive at 9am Thursday morning when I and another staff member would count the notes and coins and envelope up the cash with each pay slip ready to pay them all out at 10am.
    Failure on my part to do all of this correctly would be am immediate strike and stop work.
    Now it wasnt that easy but it wasnt impossible.
    My boss said I could make any mistake EXCEPT getting the workers pay wrong. He said that the workers were entitled to be paid the right amount and on time. It was a fundemental duty of the companys management.

    So I am appalled at the casual attitude of all involved from Key Joyce the Min of Ed the former CEO the dumbarse spokewimmin from the Min of Ed.

    It is indictment of their lack of respect.

    The Pollies Min of Ed and Novopay are a bunch of useless morons. They have breached the most fundemental part of their contracts with the teachers ( I have never been a teacher supporter until this issue).

    IMHO it aint rocket science and I bet myself and a couple of others with our experience could sort it in a flash.

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  21. Chris2 (766 comments) says:

    I’m no IT geek, but the Trade Me interface seems to work perfectly for users to input their data so why couldn’t a similar type of platform not be set up for schools to enter their data?

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  22. penguin (7 comments) says:

    The scenario is very simple, regardless of all the technical issues.

    Three government ministers signed the programme off, despite knowing that it was deeply flawed. This is inexcusable and totally irresponsible. It is tantamount to having a new aircraft ready, knowing it has design flaws but signing it off as being “airworthy.”

    I really do not know which planet these ministers live on! And they still have the “confidence” of the PM – another very worrying aspect!

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  23. Trevor (1 comment) says:

    I am one of the people who have to work with Novopay. When Novopay first went live on 22 August we all expected teething problems. The Education payroll system is extremely complicated, I have managed a wide variety of payroll systems over the years and the Education one takes the prize for being the most complicated. I worked with the Datacom system for 10 years and they certainly could make errors but the beauty of their system was that there was a specific person allocated to each school who was your manager so they understood the background of each problem.

    With the Novopay system you do not have a dedicated manager. Combine that with a user interface that is not stable and at times very frustrating and finicky and you have a recipe for disater. A classic example is one particular data entry could be done either on line or a csv file upload. You were provided with the csv format but when you tried to upload it the file crashed. When I finally talked to the help desk they admited there was a known error in the format which had not been corrected.

    The school I work for is not large, yet almost every staff member has had their pay effected in some way. In the current pay round I will be one of the staff who will be significantly underpaid. My record so far is 1hr 39mins on hold to try to talk to someone. But I am not sure if scrapping Novopay is the way to go. When Datacom first started they had tremdous problems as well but eventually recovered. If the Datacom system could be restarted then it could be a solution but at the same time it will take a very long time to fully reconcile all the errors in pay and third party payments. So the bottom line is that there is no easy solution and at the moment I am not worried about blame rather making sure all my staff are paid correctly and are not disadvantaged by this shambles

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  24. lastmanstanding (1,293 comments) says:

    I have a new respect for the Teachers Unions. If I was in charge I would take all the teachers out on strike until the payroll system was not only fixed but proven to be fixed.

    And I would expect the minister of everything Joyce to be rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in to help fix the problems.

    It dont need a half million to prove Novopay is a dog.

    What it needs to provide each school with its own of the shelf payroll system so those who know what they are doing can enter the data directly and pay the people they work alongside the right amount at the right time.

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  25. RightNow (6,994 comments) says:

    Penguin – absolutely – they should have told Talent2 to take their Novopay and shove it.
    Of course then no teachers would get paid, but that’s not important is it?

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  26. muggins (3,616 comments) says:

    lastmanstanding.
    Our system was similar. We had clerks who were paid fortnightly and mechanics who were paid weekly.
    The money was drawn from the bank and then put into pay envelopes. One person counted it out and a second person checked it and put it in the envelopes. Woe betide if there was anything left over. A recount had to be carried out.
    Then over time everyone went on to a fortnightly pay and all payments were made to bank accounts.
    I used to input the data, then do a dummy print-out to make sure everyone was being paid the correct amount, then I would press send and each employees pay would go into their bank a/c overnight. Deductions such as Southern Cross would be journalled in to one account, which would be paid to SC monthly.
    Not a problem. Well, I tell a lie. I do remember one employee advising me they were changing their bank account. This happened from time to time. They gave me their new bank a/c deposit slip, but instead of putting it in the payroll file I left it on my desk,where it got covered up with other paper. Result . I was in that employees bad books for a couple of weeks.

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  27. lastmanstanding (1,293 comments) says:

    muggins Maybe you and I should pitch for the Min of Ed payroll job. We sure as hell wouldnt do worse than the current clowns and I reckon we could make it work using the good old manual input of data system.

    As I said before payroll aint rocket science, hell its probably the most straight forward of all system. you get the raw data use a calculator and bingo get the answer.

    Seems these over paid under perfroming morons aint up to the task.

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  28. reubee (24 comments) says:

    “for example, it wasn’t possible to submit time-sheets for part-time teachers”

    I suspect we will find that the issue isn’t so much with part-time teachers, as it is with staff members who work at more than one school e.g. relievers

    I found these two documents interesting

    http://media.nzherald.co.nz/webcontent/document/pdf/20135/MemoNovopayBankFile17August2012.pdf

    This points out that schools enter information up until Wednesday. A draft pay is calculated. Schools then have 1.5 days to verify that pays are correct before the cut-off to make corrections by Friday 3pm

    So …

    1. What processes do individual schools have in place whereby they get feedback from their employees that their draft pay is correct before the final payrun?

    2. What percentage of adjustments are made on the Thursday/Friday morning for the current pay period versus adjustments/backpays etc made at a later date for prior periods?

    3. Are the payroll administrators able to make the adjustments in a timely fashion i.e its Friday morning, they have the corrections they need to make before the 3pm cut-off. Does the system allow them to do what they need to do, and have they had the training in order to do these adjustments?

    Now it sounds like with the part-time screens, this is where the system falls down, but on the aspect of training …

    http://media.nzherald.co.nz/webcontent/document/pdf/20135/MemoNovopayBriefing22Nov12.pdf

    “All training was online. School users were to do an hour and 25 minutes of training spread across five online training modules – they could stop and start whenever they liked and redo them if desired”

    “Immediately after go live the Ministry ran a series of one hour webinars over a period of two weeks addressing issues that were go live”

    “A subsequent set of e-workshops (smaller numbers more interactive) focused on frequently asked questions ran for four weeks”

    So on the question of training, given it appears to be a lot on-line, hence it should be auditable i.e Talent2/Novopay should be able to say these payroll administrators clicked on this link, did this training, they watched this webinar, and attended these e-workshops. So if an individual school publicly complains in the press, it should be known if that particular school administrator did any or all online training, attended any webinars, and attended and e-workshop.

    In that briefing they said, “in retrospect we would have done it differently – maybe combination of face to face and online”, so those that were expected to do the online training, what other online training have they been exposed to in their working lives. Was it an effective form of training for this demographic?

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  29. RightNow (6,994 comments) says:

    Yay, muggins and lastmanstanding to the rescue.

    I expect the teachers unions will be ecstatic to know there’s a couple of commenters on Kiwiblog who between them can pay 110,000 people every fortnight. You only have to be processing one employee’s pay every 5 seconds. Each.

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  30. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    BeaB at 10:16 am Says: “Vinick, And even more inexcusable when you consider Hipkins was an education adviser on the staff of Chris Carter who as the Minister of Education originally signed up to Novopay. Has anyone asked him what he knew about it at the time? And what advice he helped prepare for the Minister? Could be a great little story.”

    Ah that explains why Hipkins is trying to character assassinate Wever, he is afraid the report will show a whole load of dirt around Labours management of the contract and perhaps even a cover of the extent of the problem when they left office.

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  31. wreck1080 (3,905 comments) says:

    Some people are saying there is no issue with novopay and the level of errors as a percentage is tiny.

    What is the truth? Is the media just novo-bashing?

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  32. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    wreck: the truth is always somewhere in between. The media love a good train wreck, so they like to talk it up. But it’s probably not as bad as they say.

    ruebee: if what you say on part-time teachers is true, this is one of the key things that sank the Qld Health payroll. Lots of people on different awards, and then they worked in multiple hospitals. So if you work in Hospital A for 26 hours, and you work in Hospital B for 24 hours (50 hours total) and Award A says 40 hrs a week, double time for overtime, and Award B says 37.5 hours a week, time and a half for overtime, then what does this person get paid? And which of the hospitals gets hit with the overtime bill?

    I’m assuming the teacher’s payroll isn’t quite so complicated, but crap like that is what really stuffs up payroll systems. Best practice is to change the awards first, then do the payroll, but you can be sure that a Labour govt (which started this off) wouldn’t be up for changing the awards.

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  33. penguin (7 comments) says:

    For expat – I think you have missed the point. Labour may have initiated the change to a new provider/system, but they DID N OT SIGN IT OFF! Therefore, it is erroneous to suggest that they are somehow responsible for this current debacle.

    I will use an analogy to illustrate the point. I (Labour) ask someone to design and build me a house. I sell the partially completed house to another party (National). It emerges that some design faults have been found. The flaws are now common knowledge but the new owner (National) CHOOSES TO IGNORE THEM.

    This does not make me (Labour) responsible for any fallout ensuing from the initial project, since the buyer (National) knew of the existence of the flaws!.

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  34. Dave Stringer (188 comments) says:

    To PaulL

    You got it m8.

    There are so many different agreements that your scenario is not only possible, it’s probable.
    What is worse is the fact that s peripatetic teacher could work in ten schools in a week, with different negotiated contrcts for each of them. The idea that you would have to be able to prioritise a list of over 10,000 possible combinations is not at all far-fetched.

    Also, as I understand it, Datacom gave appropriate notice that they were going to cease to be the Ministry’s payroll provider, the service was put out for tender and Novapay, as an off-the-shelf software package requiring some ‘tailoring’ was selected.

    Based on my experience with Ministries’ ability to define specifically what was needed, they didn’t, and the issue has its roots there. The software provider shouldn’t have to decide how to prioritise pay-types, or how many different time entry codes might be needed for a single individual across how many different schools – those are User Requirements, and should be specfied by the users. Sadly, the Ministry is not the user, but an agent for the many users, and so, as has happened many times, didn’t bother to get things right as it wasn’t going to affect them directly! Ha!

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  35. Dave Stringer (188 comments) says:

    y

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  36. muggins (3,616 comments) says:

    Ok,just checked with my daughter who does the input at the primary school she works at.
    Most weeks she doesn’t have to anything, because there are no changes. But if someone takes sick leave or whatever she has to input that. When a new teacher starts, she has to input that. When a teacher leaves she has to input that.
    Novapay advise if there have been no changes. Check. Novapay advise of any changes . Check. If a change is incorrect my daughter advises Novapay and they fix it before the deadline. She says that primary schools shouldn’t be having any problems.
    But apparently secondary schools have a different set-up. I understand teachers are on hourly rates or something, and they get paid at different rates if they take pupils on school trips or whatever. And they have more casual staff,etc.,etc.
    So there is more room for error. It would appear they are not always checking Novapay’s confirmation so they are not picking up any errors that Novapay may have made or that they may have made.
    So if the inputter makes an error he/she gets the chance to fix it. If Novapay makes an error the inputter gets the chance to fix it.
    However, I believe that once an error gets through the system it can take some weeks before it gets corrected.

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  37. penguin (7 comments) says:

    Muggins
    I don’t know where your daughter works but, with the greatest respect, she is way wide of the mark with her statement that ‘primary schools should not be having problems.’

    There are hundreds of primary schools (check with NZEI) whose admin staff and principals have spent hundreds of hours trying to sort out the shambles that keeps presenting as new ‘variances’ time after time.

    And don’t forget that the primary service comprises hundreds of part-time support staff, many of whom work variable hours. This creates challenges for any system. Sadly, it is many of the support staff who have been negatively affected by the mess.

    One of the major problems for admin has been that Novopay has not had the help staff available together with the inability to handle the volume of enquiries that have been generated.

    Granted some schools have been spared but not many!

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  38. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    This also sounds like a classic case of not having clear written business rules. I’ve worked on projects where the definition of “right” is “whatever the old system did.” When you ask for documentation or evidence that the old system did it right, the answer is that nobody was complaining, so it must be right. That works OK because people get the same experience as they used to get – so right or wrong life goes on.

    The problem comes if you start getting attention, perhaps for some other reason entirely. Then people start checking their results (in this case, checking their pay slip carefully). So notwithstanding that you do exactly what the old system did, people start to say ‘hang on, that’s not right’. And then you’re in trouble, because whilst the old system didn’t do it either, nobody’s keen to tell everyone that – they might make claims for mis-payment going way back into the past. So instead of being able to say “but it’s always been that way”, you put your head down and take it on the chin (can you do both those at the same time?) Problem is, nobody has any written down definition of what right is, so how do you fix it?

    Not saying that’s what happened here, no inside knowledge on Novopay. Just saying that I’ve seen that on other systems.

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  39. muggins (3,616 comments) says:

    penguin
    All I can tell you is what my daughter is telling me. She is extremely well organised and I have to say I just wonder if a lot of the problems at Primary school level at least are caused because the persons handling the input are at least partly responsible. The school she works at is a medium sized school in a city. She has had no problems. There have been the odd mistakes,but they have always been fixed before the cut-off deadline. No-one has been overpaid or short paid or not paid.

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  40. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    My guess: Datacom knew how the old system worked but the Dept didn’t. So the specification was inadequate. Furthermore the Dept had zilch expertise in running an online distributed system so had no idea of the fishhooks. Then even the inadequate spec didn’t get completed because of delays and time spent tackling all the loose strings that came out of the woodwork so it went live with all kinds of Mickey Mouse workarounds and manual interventions.

    Basically the whole thing reeks of management failure.

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  41. tvb (4,418 comments) says:

    I think the Teachers’Unions have been very patient with this. It is a bread and butter issue for the Unions to get their teeth into. It is one strike I would support though Stephen Joyce is on to it and that seems to have settled things somewhat. it does help to be a Senior Minister who has the Prime Ministers’ confidence to sort it including kicking some serious arse should that be necessary. I am afraid Craig Foss never really got to grips with the problem and I suspect his career may have been damaged as a result. But that can wait.

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  42. Reid (16,442 comments) says:

    Basically the whole thing reeks of management failure.

    and

    I am afraid Craig Foss never really got to grips with the problem and I suspect his career may have been damaged as a result.

    Bingo.

    And guess who are the biggest managers of all in this affair? That’s right, the politicians. Who fucked up, badly. Parata crashed and burned over this on any reading of the facts. But because she’s the only Maori in Cabinet Key keeps her golden, because he has to, because the Maori vote matters. It wasn’t an accident that he walked with her into the Ratana meeting a few days after he’d surprisingly endorsed her to a few journos accompanying him to Scott Base.

    And as usual, when a potato gets too hot, the politicians throw it to the consultants, just like they did with the IT security issue at WINZ. This is because they want to use our money to take the heat off them and rely on the consultants “brand” to scare away any nasty media enquiries with their flash ppt’s and their vast liability insurance premiums. And it works. Look at the security issue. It’s gone away. And the consultants, who gave precisely the same advice they could have got from any mid-level manager in the organisation, reap millions. Of our money. For what?

    Not to do anything, of course.

    No.

    To transfer the heat.

    Simple. As. That.

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  43. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    @Reid, yes, the big accountancies get paid to solve the political problems, not the technical ones.

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  44. ionmannz (6 comments) says:

    With due respect to the many commentators on this topic, you might be clever project managers or I.T. whizzes but very few of you actually work in a school using novopay. I do. There are 32 employees on the payroll. We are fortunate in having low staff turnover and often start the year with no changes. We started the year 2013 school year with only two changes. We still had numerous errors. Please note:

    1 The novopay interface is awful and not intuitive.

    2 It is not real time, so after making an online entry you cannot go in and see if it has been applied.

    3 Reporting is mostly in PDF or CSV files; they are often not available until 2 – 10 days after entry.

    4 The start of the year on line entry was a shocker. Despite following instructions and taking advice, many of the entries produced errors and the entries became locked. When contacted Novopay said yes it is a known bug, please email in a form.

    5 The large number of emails sent to Novopay is by their own request because the online system failed and an email is the only method to communicate the data.

    6 The media keep reporting that “teachers have had trouble sending in their payroll data.” This is incorrect – the payroll data inputs are done by the school principal or a designated admin staff member. Not individual teachers.

    7 On Thursday last week we received an email saying that 6 errors we had informed Novopay about had not appeared on the Thursday draft payroll report but that they will be processed and they will be paid and will show on the following Monday payroll report. And to not resend the data and don’t send an error report. The 6 errors were not fixed and did not appear on the Monday payroll report.

    8 Phoning Novopay on Monday was futile – a recorded message said that due to high call volumes Novopay was not accepting any more calls.

    9 The individual Novopay employees (poor souls) I phone have been pleasant and willing but by their own admission they can’t fix the error and please email in a form.

    10 We have four different employments in our school, not thirteen. They are for the teachers, the principal, the caretakers & cleaners, and the support staff (Teacher aides & office workers). This appears quite logical and reasonable.

    11The novopay debacle is not about bulk funding of teachers or unions or whether you liked school or not. Stop the red herrings and side shows. It is about a $30 million dollar government contract (which could run to $100 million) which has failed. It could easily have been a contract for a payroll system to pay to pay health workers, or politicians or superannuitants.

    12 The Ministry of Education senior managers and the Minister would not acknowledge school’s concerns and tried to spin the situation saying it was only teething troubles and all would be well.

    13 The Ministry would not provide face to face training. They thought an hour in a chat room type online training “webinaire” would be enough

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  45. Reid (16,442 comments) says:

    the big accountancies get paid to solve the political problems, not the technical ones.

    The subtlety Alan is that managers in the corporate sector employ them for precisely the same reason except they normally disguise it as commercial exigency (difficult, complex, tight timelines, etc). As if a decent independent contractor couldn’t do it equally well, for half the price. But the shareholders, being ignorant, don’t normally pick up on this particularly wasteful practice, just like the media don’t.

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  46. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    ionmannz: There are clearly a number of failures here. But the one that I’d wonder about is user acceptance testing – most of these issues would typically turn up there. Sure, they should be found earlier, but UAT is usually the backstop if nothing else has found it. I wonder what was covered in UAT.

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  47. Reid (16,442 comments) says:

    The large number of emails sent to Novopay is by their own request because the online system failed and an email is the only method to communicate the data.

    This possibly explains why this govt is pushing ultra-fast broadband so very hard ironman. Lest the email system become so clogged it get’s like Akld at rush hour.

    The novopay interface is awful and not intuitive.

    Can you give some examples? A UI is not rocket science, esp a payroll UI given albeit its complex, there are known common variables so it should, you’d think, be a fairly standard set of controls. So how come it’s unintuitive and awful?

    I think the Teachers’Unions have been very patient with this.

    tvb, really? On my reading they’ve rarked it up at every single possible opportunity, bar none.

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  48. ionmannz (6 comments) says:

    PaulL: Yes, I believe you are correct. I am not aware of any schools that actually trialed or tested Novopay. The first pay round we had with novopay contained really basic errors arising from scenarios that are common to all schools such as a part time teacher who might work a regular two days a week in a school but who may from time to time be asked to do an extra day relieving here or there. You can’t pay them online. Novopay didn’t provide a clear list of known bugs to schools so that you could avoid online errors. You had to try it online, have it fail, phone the help desk (wait up to 60 minutes) and then be told you can’t do in online please send a form.

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  49. penguin (7 comments) says:

    Muggins
    All I can say is that your daughter is very lucky (and her school) to have escaped the onslaught that most other schools have had to endure.
    I reiterate that the system contained identified problems through the extended trial period yet was still signed off by 3 ministers without these being addressed.
    The human input at the school end met with failure after failure which were shortcomings by Novopay, not the school/office administrators!

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  50. Reid (16,442 comments) says:

    All I can say is that your daughter is very lucky (and her school) to have escaped the onslaught that most other schools have had to endure.

    penguin whilst not wishing to minimise the distwess and anguish, are you really saying that the majority of schools have faced an “onslaught” or are you just saying that because you want to pour gasoline on the fire? And if you stand by the former, what data can you show us of “the onslaught?”

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  51. kiwigunner (230 comments) says:

    Novapay disaster deniers!
    At my school of 20 staff we have experienced all sorts of problems. Errors from the first few pay days remain unresolved to date. Staff overpaid mostly and every pay day a new problem. Most worryingly for me management reporting is completely ballsed up and it is hard to see how it will be reconciled.

    I am relying on the very good will and commitment of the staff to keep doing their work through all this mess. I’m sure a lot of the folk here who find teachers so terrible will be considering how long they would keep working if they weren’t being paid and reflecting that maybe these teachers deserve a lot of credit for their efforts during this rubbish.

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  52. wreck1080 (3,905 comments) says:

    “This also sounds like a classic case of not having clear written business rules. I’ve worked on projects where the definition of “right” is “whatever the old system did.””

    Business rules are a euphemism for “the system doesn’t work so this is the workaround”.

    I’ve seen some hideous business rules in my time.

    Correct about the ‘old system’ mentality. There are whole tomes written on change management.

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  53. muggins (3,616 comments) says:

    I would like to know how many primary schools are having problems.
    Someone should check it out. What % of primary schools are having a problem.
    I do not believe the school my daughter works at has escaped any “onslaught”. That sounds like pretty emotive language to me. How come the school she works at could manage to “escape an onslaught? ”
    As I said earlier I don’t know enough about secondary schools payroll to make an informed comment.
    Also, my daughter did tell me that there were problems with Datacom when that system was first brought in.
    I don’t know how Novapay was brought in.
    I used to work for a nationwide car franchise,about 25 branches.
    A new computer system was brought in. It was tested out at five branches to start with. It was an Australian outfit. We were never off the phone to them for the first couple of months. Then after most of the bugs were ironed out[ there were bugs in the system, but many of the problems were caused because we didn't know how to operate it properly] then it was gradually brought in to all the other branches. The last branches brought in had virtually no problems.
    I myself wrote a processing procedure . I would sit at the computer and every time I pressed key I would enter it on the instruction sheet. If I pressed “enter” I would write down “enter”. This was distributed to all branches.
    This only related to manual input like vehicle sales ,etc. Parts and workshop sales were online right from the start.

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  54. kiwitony (1 comment) says:

    I work in a school with over 130 staff paid by NP, including teachers, teacher aides, support staff, & groundstaff. Last week we had 15 new staff to be paid (either completely new, or returning from maternity leave or other leave). 4 were going to be paid according to the report (received Thursday 4.49am) . We lodged error reports for the other 11. Second report – 1 more was being paid (received Monday 12.22am). Rang NP – absolutely assured, after 25 minutes on hold, by a nameless “help”desk person that everyone would be paid. Third report – no change (received Tuesday 2.00am). Tuesday morning – teachers start rocking up to my office with payslips – showing, you guessed it, “$0″ net pay.

    Now in on Waitangi day starting to unravel the reports and work out how much we will need to pay people tomorrow. If you are not sitting in a management position you would not be able to comprehend the level of incompetent reporting and the depth of errors being made by NP. We have a main report – called a SUER (Staff Usage and Expenditure Report). Ours has the totals for the pay period halfway down page 3 of a 14 page report. In the past the reports were 8 pages week in week out – now they have grown to accommodate the convoluted calculations NP deems necessary to report on. But, the report lines do not match the employees payslip, nor do they match the CSV report we also have access to. We used to get the reports emailed every fortnight – now we have to log on every day to have a look if they have been run – frequently the report function is unavailable. As each report is re-run, access to the previous version is deleted from our access, so if you miss checking one day it is likely you will miss a major (or minor) change in costs and payments. We should get 1 x draft, send in corrections, then a final report. This week it was a draft on Thursday, a final on Monday, a revised final Tuesday and according to one helpdesk person we will get a fourth final on Thursday (this info though has been refuted by another helpdesk operator).

    We have been charged for teachers who don’t work here, charged for primary teachers (we are secondary), and each time the MoE will charge us an additional $1250 per week which comes off students desks. We have curriculum departments which run on less than this for a whole year.

    We have had staff with their PAYE deduction increased by 50% in one pay then back to normal the next, and their Kiwisaver deduction doubled, then back to normal. This happens without us sending any electronic instruction, or paper forms. When we request explanations and corrections we wait (these two events happened before Christmas – to date, no response.

    I am on a non-variable salary – but every pay since NP started I have had 1-3c corrections made (notated as “Arrears”). The amount is totally insignificant and who cares?, but when its extrapolated out for 130 staff with 2 or 3 extra lines of data to be checked it does add to the workload.

    One teacher this week has 22 lines of data to check – and the teacher worked a standard 14 day fortnight, is permanant, fulltime, on basic teacher salary!

    The bottom of reports has notations like:

    “entries reflect staff costs that are charged to your school, but may not necessarily be correct. Please review these entries in detail and if in error please raise a Novo31″.

    So people get it – to raise a Novo31 requires downloading yet another form (which is updated without warning, and will not processed if its an out of date form – so you have to check everytime), complete the form, scan it/save it, send to Novopay. Wait for a “ticket” number to be returned by email and then wait wait wait. We cannot see progress of the ticket, but have to call NP to get updates. We were meant to have online access to the ticketing process by October – still waiting.

    This week I worked Sunday, half of Monday, most of yesterday and now today on NP. The old system required about 2 hours per week. This is a significant change.

    Yesterday NP posted this on the website:

    “Normal services will resume on Thursday.”

    We actually don’t want their “normal services”

    Get it?

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  55. muggins (3,616 comments) says:

    Ok,kiwitony,
    Obviously you are having problems.
    But I am saying it would appear to me that primary schools should not be having problems. Lets at least get any primary schools that are having problems sorted out, then Novapay can concentrate on the secondary schools problems.

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  56. penguin (7 comments) says:

    Reid
    If for a moment you ignore a little of the emotion contained in the word ‘onslaught'(one dictionary definition is….” a very large quantity of people or things that is difficult to deal with”) and focus on the core of the issue, you would perhaps understand some of the intense pressure, frustration and anger being experienced by those trying to cope with this flawed system. In this context onslaught is appropriate!

    I am closely involved in education through various avenues and am by no means overstating any points, as implied by your rather insulting “gasoline on the fire” comment.

    I respectfully suggest you do some internet searching around Novopay and discover for yourself the well-documented issues around this sorry saga.

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  57. muggins (3,616 comments) says:

    I understand Novapay did trial the system in the South Island.
    What should have happened is that all the bugs should have been ironed out then. It is obvious they weren’t.
    Why didn’t the Government stay with Datacon until Novapay got their system sorted?
    I have checked again with my daughter and she is of the understanding that the local primary schools are hardly having any problems now, although there were some at the start.

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  58. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    Let’s not beat about the bush. If schools are having to send any forms to a central data entry service this is a gross implementation failure for an online system. If a service provider is accessing or entering data this is a gross implementation failure and security violation for a financial system.

    Even it it wasn’t producing any errors, this system would be an unacceptable dog.

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  59. gerry33nz (2 comments) says:

    I am a secondary school teacher. I have not had any missed pays (yet) but have enough colleagues who have. I thought I would double check my kiwi saver today and have found that although I am regularly deducted for this no money has been deposited into my kiwi saver account since sept 15th 2012. Isn’t Novopay just awesome?

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  60. muggins (3,616 comments) says:

    http://computerworld.co.nz/news.nsf/news/nz-post-retained-payroll-team-in-switch-to-talent2

    Well, it seems NZ Post got their problems with Novapay sorted,but it took a while.

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  61. penguin (7 comments) says:

    For those of you who are bemused, confused or ill-informed, go to this website as it gives a comprehensive and clear background of the Novopay people and the issues that have arisen with this flawed system. Also has a short time-line of significant ‘stages.’ It clearly states which 3 ministers were responsible for signing the system off.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10863706

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  62. muggins (3,616 comments) says:

    gerry33nz(1) Says:

    February 6th, 2013 at 3:04 pm
    I am a secondary school teacher. I have not had any missed pays (yet) but have enough colleagues who have. I thought I would double check my kiwi saver today and have found that although I am regularly deducted for this no money has been deposited into my kiwi saver account since sept 15th 2012. Isn’t Novopay just awesome?

    gerry, how easy is it to check your kiwisaver a/c?

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  63. gerry33nz (2 comments) says:

    I can view my kiwi saver details by logging into the IRD website then following the proper link. It can often be a month or two delayed in showing deductions but it wouldn’t be 5 months delayed. Other staff at my school have now checked and found the same thing, not sure if it’s everyone that has kiwi saver has not had the money going into their account, or only some. It’s quite a mess.

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  64. muggins (3,616 comments) says:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/8352938/Legal-action-launched-over-Novopay

    I don’t know about taking legal action against Novopay. What is that going to achieve?

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