The Ministry of Social Development won’t say how much replacing or updating its Swiftt benefit payments system could cost, claiming commercial confidentiality.
Computerworld requested the information under the Official Information Act after the ministry declined to provide details of its replacement plan for Swiftt. Questions were asked in Parliament about the cost of fixing errors and replacement.
The refusal to provide the cost estimates is temporary, says ministry head Peter Hughes, until after a tendering exercise for a client management system is concluded. This is likely to be early in June.
Release of Swiftt cost estimates during the tendering exercise “would likely prejudice the ministry’s ability to successfully carry out commercial negotiations”, Hughes says.
The client management system is planned to “assist the effective and efficient delivery of client services now and in the future”, he says. “As the … system is likely to be a key part of decisions around the future of Swiftt and MSD’s other legacy systems, this is likely to further refine the $78m to $180m cost estimates [given last year for Swiftt enhancement or replacement].”
One industry source has put the likely cost at $500 million, while one software developer has claimed it can be done for $10 million — though both estimates have been rubbished.
Computerworld also asked whether the interface between Swiftt and the Trace debt management system has been improved to provide more traceability of debt, particularly for fraud detection purposes.
Hughes acknowledges that at present the code identifying benefit fraud is lost as information “cycles” between the two systems. There are, however, other ways of finding this information by searching individual client records, he says.
Improvements to both systems are planned which should cover this shortcoming. “This work will continue at a prudent pace, having regard to the risks associated with acting too hastily and to ensure that any solution provides the level of reliability that taxpayers would expect,” Hughes says.
In reply to questions on the major consequences of a failure in the MSD systems, Hughes says that Swiftt is a robust system, and failure on occasion to make benefit payments on time owed more to problems with banking systems than MSD programs.