WINZ under fire for poor IT planning

The Department of Work and Income - formerly WINZ - may have to postpone the development of its new IT systems for student loans and student allowances until next year.

The Department of Work and Income - formerly Work and Income New Zealand - may postpone the development of new IT systems for student loans and student allowances until next year, the department's manager of e-services Terry Baker confirms.

Attendees at one of two sessions to discuss request for informations (RFI) for this and other DWI projects earlier this month, expressed misgivings that the department has left itself inadequate time to get a system together by the September 30 deadline - when student registrations are expected to start.

They also say too little thought has gone into what the department wants in terms of technology.

An attendee who does not wish to be named says that faced with a compressed timescale, the department might opt for a "quick and dirty" solution that would be less than optimal, and might deliver less than the vendor promised.

The department's representatives, he says, did not seem to have their thoughts in order.

He says questions were met with responses like: "We hadn't quite thought of that; we'll have to go away and find an answer for you."

DWI may face major changes to its business processes for student loans and allowances, arising out of last week's report on last year's debacle.

These changes will have to be synchronised with the computer system development.

"It's another disaster waiting to happen," says the attendee.

Baker says the department "realises we have a very brief timescale, and it could be difficult to achieve anything meaningful" by the September 2000 deadline.

However, there may be proposals for "incremental improvements" to the present much-criticised system, which would be possible by that date.

At least one candidate supplier has pointed to an overseas system that provides most of the student loan and allowance requirements, which may only have to be tailored in minor ways.

The department conducted a search for products of this type in the run-up to the development of last year's system, but it may have overlooked this offering, Baker says.

"But there is a strong possibility we may decide to put it off and go full-bore from next March", rather than taking the incremental approach, he says.

A meeting is planned this week when a decision could be made to proceed with some of the project or postpone it altogether.

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