Fronde engaged for NAIT Plan B

Original plan foundered on commercial, not tech, factors - chair

The ICT part of the controversial and ill-starred National Animal Identification and Tracing project (NAIT) has been entrusted to Wellington’s Fronde Systems for a ground-up build, following a failed attempt to base the system on that implemented by NLIS (National Livestock Information System) in Australia.

NAIT is currently planned to record the ownership, location and transfer of beef and dairy cattle and farmed deer using electronic eartags. Use of NAIT is now scheduled to become compulsory for cattle on July 1 next year and for deer on March 1, 2013. Under the failed NLIS-assisted plan, the go-live date for cattle was to have been November 1 this year.

The system may subsequently be extended to other animal species, most likely horses.

NAIT Ltd, the company formed to oversee the development of the electronic animal tagging and recordkeeping system, says that although the new ICT setup must be developed from scratch, the project as a whole will only be set back by a few months. The ICT aspect of the NAIT system is only a small part of the total scheme; the big effort in the six-year project has been in the surrounding processes, which can proceed practically unaltered, under “Plan B”, says NAIT Ltd chairman, Ted Coats.

Coats says collapse of the negotiations with NLIS was for commercial reasons; not, as reported elsewhere in the media, because the NLIS system only recorded “one-legged” transactions. This means the movement of an animal is recorded only by the recipient, whereas the NAIT system was designed to record a transaction in the sender’s system as well.

However, “we were requiring them to develop a two-legged system, and they had accepted that,” says Coats. “We would have got it from them, no question,” had it not been for the commercial factors, which he declines to go into; “there were too many issues to count,” he says; “and it would be unfair to give you what would be my spin on it.”

Sources close to the project say NLIS was originally brought into the exercise as a partner of Unisys but was subsequently approached by NAIT Ltd to make a proposal on its own behalf.

Unisys “did make some sort of proposal”, Coats says, but NAIT already knew of the NLIS system and it was a logical option. “In fact it would have been negligent of us not to look at it.”

Unisys, according to the source, was displeased at being apparently worked around; but the company’s managing director, Brett Hodgson, did not return calls on the matter.

Introduction of NAIT has been delayed by the commercial obstacles and the progress of necessary legislation – the two factors were mutually influencing each other in a “chicken and egg situation,” Coats says. The empowering Bill passed its second reading in Parliament on Wednesday.

If the NAIT ICT system had been based on NLIS, it would have required “some modification” to the original specification, as well as to the NLIS software, Coats says. The new system can be built to the original intent of the spec.

Although NAIT participation by cattle farmers will not be compulsory until July 2012, farmers will be able to join the system voluntarily from early next year. Many farmers are already tagging their cattle with NAIT-compatible eartags, says Coats; this population will provide a useful test-base for the ICT element as it is developed.

Fronde responded to the original request for proposal. “It was at least number two” in ranking to supply the ICT for that system, says Coats. Taking account of that fact, and also Fronde’s status as an existing member of MAF's supplier panel for Solution Development and Support, the risk of going back to Fronde was judged less than going for another full tender.

“Fronde currently develops and supports the MAF Climate Change Information System (CCIS) and Incursion Response System (IRS), along with other core MAF business applications. Fronde is one of the preferred ICT suppliers for seven government agencies and is a Microsoft certified partner,” the company’s announcement of the contract says.

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