‘Veneer’ of integration likely for Auckland

Council documents reveal concerns about extreme time pressures for ICT integration

Documents obtained under the Local Government Official Information Act indicate the Auckland Transition Agency, the body charged with delivering the new Auckland Council, is likely to apply a “veneer” of integration and keep most existing council systems in place for the launch of the Supercity.

That could be good news, in the short term at least, for local body ICT workers, but not so good for those hoping for significant cost savings from the integration and consolidation of IT functions.

See also: Forum — the enigma that is the Supercity

Supercity ICT: How the vendors are placed

The ATA isn’t commenting on its plans for technology integration.

The documents received by Computerworld include a response from Waitakere City Council to a September 30 memo from Mike Foley, the stream leader of business processes and systems for the ATA. John Johnson, Waitakere City’s group manager for information, writes that he supports Foley’s opinion for “the veneer systems to be functional from 1 July to enable staff training”.

Johnson writes that financial and telephony systems for the new council will be required to interface with the existing councils’ systems.

“These are key systems for the new council to manage and integrate with the existing councils’ systems with effect from the operational date of 1 November 2010,” Johnson writes, adding that they need to be in place by 1 July 2010 to allow training on the new technology and new business processes involved.

Whatever platforms are chosen, Johnson writes,”will also set the platform and future IT direction for the new council over the next five to 15 years”.

“The timeframe for implementing these systems is extremely tight and it is highly unlikely that they will meet the required time lines if the supplier selection is not finalised over the next four to six weeks,” he continues. The memo is dated 2 October 2009.

A response to what appears to be the same memo from Manukau City Council indicates Foley was canvassing opinions on whether the ATA could procure systems with urgency and without a competitive tender. Manukau City’s CIO, Colin Smith, responds that the procurement should be “driven by business strategy and defined needs supported by an appropriate technical solution”.

Where existing systems can meet needs of the Supercity on 1 November, this might negate the need for such a procurement, Smith writes.

“The decision to leverage an existing system for short-term expediency would ideally be based on a robust decision making framework and a consensus agreement of the relevant TLAs [Territorial Local Authorities] may negate the need for market procurement and the associated competitive tendering process.”

If existing systems will not meet such needs, Smith suggests a tender could be restricted to a small number of suppliers as defined in a clear ATA procurement policy.

“The necessity to exercise legal powers is likely to be driven by the imperative to buy new systems from the market rather than leverage existing council systems. A minimalist approach to change is likely to achieve a smoother transition than introducing significant changes during the transition period.”

He writes that a single contact number with interactive voice response would allow calls to be redirected to service centres maintaining their existing telephony systems.

Smith writes that if any decisions by the ATA bind the new council into a long-term commitment, the sensible approach to these would be through a defensible and robust procurement process, however, “this will be in some tension with the timeline for Auckland Council’s establishment”.

Waitakere’s Johnson also writes that having no tender is “not a defendable option”, while a limited tender could be achieved in four to six weeks. Changes to financial systems, he says, will be complex and could take six to eight months to implement excluding staff training.

He recommends an independent member be appointed to any evaluation team, along with an external peer review of the selection process.

Ian Rae, CIO of Auckland City Council, writes that the council did not have a lot of time to work through the issues. Due to the extreme time pressures, Rae recommends that the best solution be identified from within the existing infrastructure of the councils. To do so, an independent expert should be engaged and the decision and process should be taken to the Auditor-General for assessment.

Rae says that in his opinion there was not enough time for either a full or a limited tender. However, he says the status quo is not an option either, as the existing systems would not reflect the new council’s structure. Building a platform to consolidate existing systems would still require a procurement process.

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