A replacement for the Ministry of Social Development’s aging Swiftt — Social Welfare Information for Tomorrow Today — system could cost as much as $500 million.
Swiftt, which went live in 1993, has gone through several reviews in the past few years. A post-election briefing document in 2002 quoted a range of costs from $78 million to $180 million for bringing the system up to speed. This, the ministry said at the time, would depend on whether Swiftt was upgraded or replaced.
Sources cited in the March issue of CIO magazine now suggest the cost will be much higher, with one suggesting it could be as much as $500 million.
The system is said to have grown so complex that it has become fragile, but the ministry in 2002 insisted that replacement or repair was not a matter of immediate priority. Swiftt, the ministry confirms, is still not fully documented.
The 2002 review, known as the EISS project (Evaluation of Income Support Systems), “has been useful in identifying business drivers and for examining the issues that arise from any decision to change MSD’s legacy systems”, the ministry’s Bronwyn Saunders said at the time. This was only one of as many as six reviews conducted into the system.
The current status, according to a written statement to CIO, is that “the ministry is currently developing its information systems strategic plan, now that the statement of intent has been tabled. The SOI outlines the ministry’s priorities and goals over the next three years, and IT system development will take into account the IT requirements linked to these priorities, as well as attempting to anticipate issues arising from the government’s work programme in the near future.
“Decisions about the ministry’s legacy systems will be made as a flow-on of these considerations. There are a range of options for the future of [these] systems. These range from replacing some systems completely, possibly over a period of time, to modifying them to provide some additional functions and flexibility. Costs vary, depending on the option.
“The ministry’s IT systems work well. We are working through our plans for future IT spending in a prudent and systematic way, and given the reliability of the systems, there is no need to rush this process.”
A very similar statement was given to Computerworld in 2002.
A rumour at the time that two potential vendors had been identified for a possible replacement was denied.
Last year the ministry admitted that Swiftt and its companion system Trace intended to manage benefit debt and detect fraud were not able to communicate fully, with the result that the true extent of benefit fraud could not be assessed.
One of the problems with MSD IT is said to be that the advisers appointed under CIO Christine Stevenson were insufficiently skilled in IT. Stevenson herself comes from an accounting background. The ministry says the appointments were a deliberate decision to place more focus on business within IT. Sufficient technology expertise exists in lower levels of the organisation, the ministry suggests.