MSD CIO disputes claim it has lost its knowledge base

Ministry of Social Development CIO Christine Stevenson disputes assertions by a former developer of its benefits system that the department has lost significant internal IT knowledge and is "captive" to its computing services provider, EDS.

Ministry of Social Development CIO Christine Stevenson disputes assertions by a former developer of its benefits system that the department has lost significant internal IT knowledge and is “captive” to its computing services provider, EDS.

Alan Wilkinson, who worked on the early development of Swiftt, says the dearth of internal knowledge will hamper any planned replacement or enhancement of Swiftt.

On the contrary, the ministry has "been concentrating on ensuring that we have appropriate inhouse capability to manage our systems destiny”, Stevenson says, in an emailed reply that reached Computerworld too late to be included in our print edition.

“In the past three years, we have made considerable inroads into reskilling and building capability in our applications management team as well as building on our capability in the design and architecture areas. We are confident we have the knowledge inhouse to drive through the Swiftt changes required for today and the future."

Wilkinson says it would be unwise to dismantle the whole system and replace it with something completely new. A gradual approach would be preferable, hiving off those parts of the system that could be transferred, such as staff management functions, into more modern databases. But the core database should be left where it is for the present and front-ended by updated applications, he suggests.

“Intrinsically, there’s one big database that holds nearly everything and a lot of systems hang off it. I’m not sure there’s any good business rationale for moving that database off the [current Unisys] mainframe," he says.

Stevenson also discounts Wilkinson’s impression that a previous attempt to modernise the programs fronting the main beneficiary database was unsuccessful. He says the project, done several years ago by Unisys, was badly managed and did not produce what was expected of it.

Stevenson says the project was productive: “Several years ago we did implement a new common view in as far as fronting processes from Swiftt and other core business systems which also enabled us to separate out customer data from the Swiftt benefit system. This was required to support the merger of Income Support and the New Zealand Employment Service.

“This front end was delivered by a mixture of inhouse resource and other systems integration partners.”

Swiftt has moved on a long way since Wilkinson’s days in MSD, she says. “It is quite unfair to make judgements today based on what things were like four to five or more years ago."

She says the ministry is consistently making improvements to the Swiftt system. "Swiftt is no longer a standalone system and is well integrated into a number of other core business applications. We are confident in our ability to both maintain Swiftt and to bring about the strategic change required to support MSD's business into the future. We must do this, while ensuring that our heritage systems maintain their current high standard of reliable performance.”

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