Correspondence School development criticised

All essential functions now in place, says CEO

The New Zealand Correspondence School’s Student Management System is still incomplete in its core functionality, although the chief executive says everything required for day-to-day operation is in production.

Computerworld wrote about the system’s difficulties in July last year. An independent consultants’ report shortly after the article was published alleges significant shortcomings in governance and management of the project and successive instances of poor decision-making on the project.

The Correspondence School declined to accept that report – by Davanti Consulting – and commissioned another, from KPMG. While not so critical, the KPMG report is still far from giving the system a clean bill of health.

KPMG report

Several “action plan items” were still on the books when the KPMG report was completed, in January. Many of these are to do with improving the usability of the system, a focus for criticism among users Computerworld spoke with mid-last year.

The only objective that KPMG records as having been fully met is that “All action plan items have been collated and no items were missing” from the variations coordinated by the School’s Information Resource Group (IRG) The action plan items were being worked on, KPMG recorded in January. “Appropriate plans have been developed to address the items and these are being monitored, reported on and progressed.”

KPMG identifies some difficulty in arriving at this position: “Item reference numbering was not individualised, which made it difficult and time consuming to ensure that all Action Plan items were incorporated into the IRG variations,” it says.

“In addition, new ideas for improvement are being raised through various people rather than through the centralised email that has been set up by IRG and are currently not being evaluated due to other priorities.

“We recommend clear mapping of the action plan items to the specific variations, reinforcing the IRG process in place for raising new ideas for improvement, as well as establishing a centralised register and unique identifier.”

Questioned on the state of development this week, chair of the Correspondence School Board of Trustees Karen Sewell says “The project to implement Te Kura’s student management system is complete,” but then adds: “Most of the core functionality is now in place.”

Those parts of the core functionality that have not yet been completed have been moved out of “the project” and brought under the heading of “business as usual”, while they are worked on, a further statement from the School clarifies.

Core functionality

Chief executive Mike Hollings explains: “All the core functionality required for day-to-day teaching operations was in place by December 2012, when the project was wound up.

“Most of the 'core functionality' referred to in the KPMG report as still being worked on in December has been placed into production,” he says. This comprises:

  • The process for rolling over ongoing student enrolments from one academic year to the next (completed in December).
  • The general ledger interface (completed in January).
  • Automated reporting on student non-engagement (completed in February).
  • Automation of the payment to supervisors (completed in February).

“There is some reporting functionality which will be introduced later this year but is not required until then,” Hollings says.

“We have set up a governance group to provide ongoing oversight of the SMS as part of ‘business as usual’,” Sewell says. “There continues to be regular reporting to the Board and staff about SMS-related activities.”

Some of the work was directed back to original developer ITS Tertiary Software (ITS), based in South Africa, since it required “changes to existing or already specified requirements.” KPMG records “some delay and lack of clarity as to when costings/hours-to-complete quotes for items will be received back from ITS.

“Te Kura [the Correspondence School] is dependent on ITS to provide these cost and time estimates and these impact on Te Kura’s ability to progress the items in a timely way,” its report says.

“The Board acknowledges that the phased implementation [of SMS] took longer than originally anticipated and posed challenges for staff in all areas of the school,” says Sewell.

“A further independent review by KPMG will take place shortly as part of Te Kura’s assurance process.

“Of the budget of $12 million for implementation of the new system, $10,719,000 has been spent to date,” she says. “We expect the final project implementation costs to come in at or slightly under budget.”

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