PAL — eight years in the making because different minds just wouldn’t meet

The PAL project is now more than halfway through its user-acceptance testing phase, which began in May

The long-delayed Public Access to Legislation system (PAL), now finally nearing completion, fell down because of communications failure, says a source close to the development.

The eight-year development brought together people who looked at the system from different angles, had different priorities and didn’t always relate well to those who had a different perspective, says the source. Such difficulties can be more troublesome than any technical difficulty, which can usually be ironed out through logical analysis.

The PAL project is now more than halfway through its user-acceptance testing (UAT) phase, which began in May (Computerworld, May 24). The first phase has been completed and the second, regression-testing to check that new fixes and updates have not introduced bugs, is well under way.

The Parliamentary Counsel Office is “full of lawyers” who don’t think in the same way as even a business-oriented developer and tester of software, the source says.

Then there are all these “old Government Printing Office guys” who can spot an inaccurate piece of leading or kerning in printed or web-displayed text at a glance. This, the source agrees, would probably not matter to the vast majority of the public who will refer to the statutes, but it involved a lot of reworking to get everything absolutely right.

The lawyers don’t care about the kerning either, he says. What they look for in formatting is indentation — the way a paragraph is indented usually has a legal meaning.

However, progress has been made, the source says. And those at the coalface think completion before the end of the year achievable.

“At the completion of UAT, data will be loaded into the production system and the conversion of work-in-progress will begin,” says an August update on the project on the Parliamentary Counsel Office’s website.

“When the PAL system is ready for implementation, it will be introduced and the old system phased-out over a transition period of three months, rather than cutting over to the new system on a specific date.

“The interim legislation website provided by Brookers will initially continue to operate, while data loaded at the completion of UAT is being updated with legislation enacted or made since the load. The new legislation website will become available to the public at some point during transition, when the data is up to date. This is now expected to be in late 2007,” says the website bulletin.

When completed and fully checked, the information on PAL will become the definitive version of New Zealand law. It will be accessible free of charge to the public.

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