The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) acknowledges that its aging benefit payment systems have needed more than 1200 fixes in the past year, but says only three were crucial and that these were fixed immediately.
A reply to a parliamentary question from ACT MP Muriel Newman on bug rates in MSD’s benefit payment systems identified 1239 fixes in the year to March 31, 2004, some of them outstanding by more than three weeks.
The initial ministry reply to Newman’s question said the faults had been logged in the year in question for the Swiftt (social welfare), SAL (student allowances) and WAM (war pensions) systems together.
But the ministry says most relate to minor matters that have not significantly held up processing.
However, MSD CIO Christine Stevenson, analysing the figures further in response to a Computerworld query, says only three of them were given the highest (A) priority grade in MSD’s classification system. An A priority means “an application or major subsystem is unavailable or … there is a problem that is not currently stopping the business, but where the consequence of the problem is likely to interrupt or stop the business within 24 hours”.
Stevenson says all three of these faults were resolved immediately.
“The exact time to resolve the three faults was as follows: 1 hour 11 minutes, 28 minutes and five minutes,” she says.
“Only 3.7% of the faults reported over the ministry’s Swiftt, SAL and WAM systems were classified as priority ‘B’ faults. MSD classifies priority ‘B’ faults where service is degraded but still substantially available for online usage.
“The remaining 96.06% of the faults reported were classified as low priority ‘C’ and ‘D’ faults. ‘C’ priority faults are where problems cause minor service issues and ‘D’ priority faults are cosmetic faults were functionality is not actually impacted — [for example,] a word appearing misspelled on a screen.”
Of the 67 errors found during the period that remain to be fixed, 22 have been outstanding for more than 21 days, 18 for 11 to 20 days and 27 for ten days or less, the ministry’s reply says.
In view of the age of the Swiftt system and several abortive proposals to co-ordinate an upgrade or replacement, questions have been asked in IT circles about its continuing stability.
The ministry declined a reply to a question from Newman about the cost per transaction of Swiftt, Trace (benefit analysis, including fraud tracking) and Solo (employment) computer systems.
Social Development Minister Steve Maharey said these costs are “not recorded”.
“The ministry plans and manages its IT contracts to support computer systems ... within a standardised value-for-money, minimised-risk environment.”