Government ICT under the spotlight in awards

KiwiSaver, the State Services Commission and the Ministry of Social Development finalists in the government category

The setting up of KiwiSaver, the upgrading the all-of-government website, and the creation of a new Ministry of Social Development database are all finalists in the Computerworld Excellence Awards Excellence in the Use of ICT in government category, which is sponsored by EDS.

Setting up KiwiSaver has been likened to establishing a new bank. The government’s voluntary superannuation scheme already has over 700,000 members.

Acting project director Peter Newell says the project was very complex, involving 33 scheme providers as well as connecting the system to the IRD, which acts as the scheme’s central administrator.

The KiwiSaver website works out how much people have contributed into the scheme and allows users to see how much they have saved and contributed.

Innovative website features included a B2B electronic interface with all providers that is capable of handling thousands of customers every day.

Challenges included a tight timeframe, major changes to the scheme announced just six weeks before its launch, a phased deployment, working with the 33 KiwiSaver providers, and integrating with employer payroll systems; plus competing for resources when government had other projects under way.

Newell says the project had to promise just-in-time delivery. This was managed by minimising project scope, gaining highly skilled staff, who worked long hours, and building effective relationships with key suppliers. Stakeholder support was also vital, including that from government ministers.

Innovative implementation approaches were tried, including working various parts of the project in parallel, which added to the risk.

Heather Daly, group manager of customer operations at the IRD, manages the KiwiSaver information from both employers and individuals taking part in the scheme.

“We use the system so the money gets allocated. We are the engine. We are using the system to ensure the right information and payments get to the right place,” she says. Daly says the system is “very large” and “truthful”, and delivers what the government hoped to achieve.

Some staff training was needed for the new system, but its user-friendly nature meant they soon became functionally literate.

Easy searching

The all-of-government website, which receives more than two million visitors a year, has just undergone a major upgrade, including having a new search engine installed.

Edwin Bruce, manager, e-government projects, calls it a “fundamental reshaping and repositioning” of the website.

The first part of the project was concerned with the new search engine. The State Services Commission “purchased the public index” from Microsoft, which spiders websites and indexes their domains, the revamped website reusing this index, because, Bruce says, this was simpler than developing a new system and trying to “out-Google Google”.

The front-end was also changed so as to focus on government agencies with “clustering technologies”, which were used to make it more intuitive in respect of how people would use the website.

The old website, Bruce says, was clunky and difficult to navigate, and the old proprietary-based search engine no longer had support available in Australasia.

Project manager Anna Chambers says replacing the old content management system also included replacing an old manual cataloguing system. Now, some 4.5 million documents are in the public domain, and around 10.8 million pages indexed, including documents from central government, local government and NGOs (non-government organisations. There is also a public sector directory for state employees only.

Under the old system, 56% of people could not find what they wanted and 17% could only partly find what they wanted. Although the new system has only been fully operational for a few months the success rate appears to have increased.

Chambers also says that the new system needs far fewer staff to manage it and “it maintains itself”.

Gillian Mckilraith works in the Parliamentary Counsel Office and says her view, as an individual user, is that the new site is a big improvement on the old one, and a pleasure to use.

“The new design has given the site a real lift, both visually and by providing direct access to popular destinations. I am impressed with the searching. I often need to look for government services or documents without knowing who the provider is and now can find them far more easily,” she says.

Better database makes for better decisions

The Ministry of Social Development has created a new database called Te Pakaro-The Storehouse, which it says is the largest project in New Zealand using SAS technology.

Child, Youth and Family use it to gather information, to allow for better decision-making. Grant Keen, manager of data warehouse for the MSD, says the reporting tool is an end-to-end solution featuring executive dashboards, and handles information right through to operational tasks and tasks for front-line staff. Three-to-four level drill-downs are also possible.

“It has created a culture of understanding,” Keen says.

Now, social workers can see how their individual decisions will affect the KPIs (key performance indicators) of the entire CYF organisation. Together, these individual decisions make for a large overall business improvement.

Keen says CYF reviewed its operations a few years back and many cases were not being dealt with. But workloads are now managed better and staff have managed to substantially reduce waiting lists.

“There has been a shift in confidence and perception of CYF,” he says.

Staff can now trust figures to help them make the right decisions, he adds.

Pam Maxted of the CYF IT directorate office says it is easy to find information now, which helps produce better reports and better decisions.

Lynley Engelbrecht, of CYF Financial Services-Management Accounting National Office, says she can find information in just a few minutes that previously would have involved “a month of fiddling”.

“It’s not a case of doing things we could not do before; it’s about understanding certain parts of the business better.”

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