Councils 'silenced' by vendor contract

The much-delayed installation of a showcase local government software system has led to allegations that public sector organisations are being silenced by vendor Geac.

The much-delayed installation of a showcase local government software system has led to allegations that public sector organisations are being silenced by vendor Geac.

Northland Regional Council has just gone live with its $1 million implementation of Geac’s ERP system, a three-stage project that Computerworld reported last year was due to go fully live in February.

The Geac land information system and SmartStream financial applications cover finances, consents and environmental monitoring.

In April the Geac website quoted general manager Garry Dohnt as saying it was “a showcase for Geac’s local government solution in New Zealand”.

However, Computerworld understands consents came online only in May, instead of last October. The total project was only finished in the last few weeks, six months late.

IT staff at Northland Regional Council declined to comment on the installation, claiming they were bound by a confidentiality clause imposed by Geac.

However, Geac customers privately speak of confidentiality clauses being imposed and of being “threatened” if they break them. They also speak of a raft of problems with the vendor, including poor customer service, projects delayed sometimes by years, as it “over-promises and under--delivers”.

In an official statement prepared with Geac, Northland IT manager Adrian Van Beek praises the project, ignoring questions from Computerworld about alleged delays.

Northland CEO Warren Mac-Lennan requested Computerworld fax him questions, “bearing in mind we have this confidentiality thing”.

MacLennan said this is a “joint contract” with Geac, so “we have to jointly agree [what is said]”, but he said he was “happy to answer questions”.

Geac’s local government manager, David , rejected claims that Geac imposes confidentiality clauses on its customers.

“We are not allowed to issue any statement other than what is issued in that article that they [Northland] put together,” Guy said two weeks ago. “In terms of the local authority market, these agreements are normal. Geac does not impose any kind of agreements. They are not imposed by the vendor.”

However, IT managers from other councils say otherwise.

Rodney District Council was one of the first users of Geac’s Gems financial package, installing it in 1993.

“Gems is 80% satisfactory; it is the other 20% that is the problem,” says acting IT manager Bill Westphal.

“Of all the vendors at Rodney, Geac is the only account that mentions it has a confidentiality aspect to it. Gems is our core application. Most of the other stuff is Microsoft and Microsoft does not have a confidentiality agreement with Word etc,” Westphal says.

North Shore City Council CIO Tony Rogers says it has such agreements with Geac and just one other vendor, Advanced Data Integration.

Such agreements, he says, bene-fit the vendor, to “prevent harm to their business”. Statements must be prepared jointly, but if it became an issue, he says the council would “go back to Geac saying, this is concerning us”.

Hutt City Council uses Geac’s Plus library software and Gems. Replying to inquiries by email, Hutt City Council IT manager Sarah Allison says “implementation of these systems was a complex process and some issues were encountered; however, it is fair to say that with any system implementation of this complexity we would expect some issues to arise”.

“The confidentiality clauses in the contracts we have with Geac are industry-standard and do not place undue restriction on the council,” she says.

When Computerworld later learnt of further allegations that a Geac-based Building Consents Online project at Hutt City still had not gone live after four years, Allison requested fresh questions be sent by email. No reply was received as we went to press.

Mike Harte, information manager at Dunedin City Council, says Geac did not impose a confidentiality clause on it, because it had bought its Gems systems from its forerunner company, Praxa. Harte says such agreements are “quite common in the ICT industry” for the “protection of intellectual property”.

He accepts such clauses can hinder a council’s search for references if it aims to purchase a particular system, but says the problem can usually be resolved between the vendor and the customer.

Other Gems users, who were unwilling to be identified, spoke of problems with the software and the company.

One North Island council IT staffer says its installation in 1999 was completed six months late, though she accepted the council could share some of the blame of the “poorly managed” project. She added that another North Island council is “not happy” either with a similar Gems implementation completed earlier this year.

She refused to be identified because of “interesting” confidentiality clauses in the support agreement. “Most councils [also] have procedures that say only certain people can talk to the media.”

Another IT staffer at another North Island council says of Geac and Gems that “there is a high degree of negativity associated with the product and the company”.

When his council installed Gems five or six years ago, “they [the vendor] were very good at over-promising and under-delivering. The core product was delivered on time, but not without its problems or a lot of cage rattling and sabre rattling and threats of legal action. That’s the general experience of most sites,” he says.

Another staffer at another council says relations with Geac’s Adelaide regional head office are better than they were with the former New Zealand-run operation.

Mike Manson, president of the Association of Local Government Information Managers, says he knows of no particular problem with the company.

“I know a lot of Geac users. They are happy. Geac is a reputable company. Sure, things go wrong. If the product was lousy, I would know.”

Both Dohnt and Guy were unavailable to comment on the later allegations as we went to press.

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