Victorian Auditor-General calls for govt IT rethink

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The Victorian Auditor-General has called for a major rethink around government IT projects after finding “significant failures” in the state’s new IT system to handle fines which went nearly $100 million over-budget and will never deliver full functionality.

The Auditor-General’s report into the Victorian Infringements Enforcement Warrant (VIEW) system found failings across the board in the project which was delayed, over budget and only delivered 5 per cent of the intended functionality when it was launched.

Much of this was down to internal failures around IT expertise and leadership, leading the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) to call for significant reform in the public service and Victorian government.

“The Victorian public service must rethink its approach to sourcing, managing and governing its complex IT projects to avoid these issues recurring,” the VAGO report said.

Parliament House Melbourne, VIC
The Auditor-General has called for a major rethink around government IT projects

The Auditor-General found “significant failures” in the VIEW project, leading to the project not meeting the expected time, cost, quality and functionality targets.

The VIEW project had an initial budget of $46 million, with a $3.8 million contingency, the report found. But the state government has spent more than $125 million on developing and improving the platform, and on workarounds when the system failed.

The state government first tried to introduce a new IT system for Fines Victoria in the early 2010s, but this project ran six years late and cost nearly $60 million, more than twice the original budget.

In January 2016, the Victorian government again went to the market for a private vendor to implement the VIEW system, with a planned launch by the end of 2017.

After the first failed attempt which involved the attempted creation of a new platform to handle fines in the state, the Department of Justice and Corrective Services (DJCS) was determined to purchase a commercial off-the-shelf system (COTS).

But this was “unrealistic” as the fines system involves “myriad of complex and bespoke processes”, the Auditor-General said, and led to many of the software defects and other issues with the project.

“These failures were mainly due to DJCS’s misguided and poorly implemented risk mitigation strategy to procure a commercial off-the-shelf system. This is because no COTS system existed, or could reasonably be expected to exist, that could meet DJCS’s complex requirements,” the report said.

By July 2017, it became clear that the contractor would be unable to deliver the functionality required by the planned launch date at the end of the year, and the contract was amended. But the vendor continued to not meet all the deadlines and delivery requirements, according to the Auditor-General.

The department decided to still launch the new system with “as much functionality as it could deliver” at the end of 2017. DJCS had anticipated that the new platform would deliver 90 per cent of the planned functionality, but it actually only delivered 5 per cent functionality, the Auditor-General said.

“This had significant, negative implications for Fines Victoria’s ability to process and enforce infringements and meet its legislative requirements,” the report said.

By March 2019, more than a year later, the fines system still only had 26 per cent functionality, the report found.

By October 2019, DJCS decided to not deliver VIEW in the form it had intended, instead aiming for a “more modern technology solution to better meet the long-term needs of the fines system”, the Auditor-General said.

The disastrous IT program was the result of a failure of governance, a lack of robust advice and a lack of IT expertise in the public sector, the VAGO report said.

The overall governance of the project was “ineffective”, it said, and “not commensurate with the project’s importance and challenging nature” while the department failed to fully inform the Attorney-General about the “substantial risks” and consequences of the project.

The DJCS also failed to properly convey how a failure to deliver the platform would significantly impact the wider fines reforms undertaken by the Victorian government.

The fines system project is indicative of wider failures across jurisdictions when it comes to tech projects, and should lead to a major rethink in the area, the Auditor-General said.

There needs to be better technical expertise within the public sector, it said.

“Developing and delivering a major and complex IT project is equivalent to a major capital works project. It requires a high degree of technical knowledge and experience as well as detailed planning and project management,” the report said.

“There are many legacy IT systems that need to be replaced across the Victorian public sector. The demand for new IT solutions to meet citizens’ changing needs and expectations and drive efficient government service delivery will also continue to grow.

“This requires strong technical and project delivery capabilities that are specific to IT within the public service. It also requires senior executives to recognise and acknowledge any limitations they have in these areas and address them through appropriate resourcing.”

The auditor-general recommended the state government establish an “information technology projects centre of excellence”, which would be a centralised, dedicated team of tech experts who would build capability across government and agencies.

The state government agreed to this recommendation, and said Digital Victoria, the new central government agency flagged in last year’s budget and launching in July, would do the job of coordinating its digital transformation agenda.

The VAGO report also recommended leadership training for public sector executives, better risk management and improved project governance. All of these recommendations were accepted by the Victorian government.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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