New Zealand's largest Java development project — Social Welfare's SWIFTT benefits system — has been scaled back dramatically, largely because the delivery date of next September was unlikely to be met.
The official line from the new government department taking over social welfare responsibilities, Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) — a merging of Income Support and the Employment Service — is that the SWIFTT (Social Welfare Information for Tomorrow Today) redevelopment project is being realigned to better meet the department's business priorities.
SWIFTT is responsible for the payment each year of $8 billion in benefits. It has been in redevelopment for the past 16 months.
EDS, the prime contractor, confirms that it reduced the number of staff working on the development from 29 to 14. "All those staff have been redeployed," says a spokeswoman.
WINZ has trimmed its 10 staff back to five, while the Oracle team also working on the project has likewise been reduced. Other vendors involved in the project include BEA, for middleware, and Rational, for some tools.
"The IT programme designed to redevelop Income Support's benefits payment system is currently at a point where changes can be made while still preserving the investments already made," says WINZ communications manager Robert Brewer. He says that, heading toward the October 1 deadline for the establishment of WINZ, it looked at current projects and systems and decided to wait a short time, till WINZ was up and running, before making any decisions. Information was put together for Treasury and Ministers and a recommendation was made to "realign" the project.
There've been several rumours of tens of millions of dollars spent to date but Brewer says the exact figure is $16.2 million, made up of $7.7 million for hardware, and $8.5 million for system development.
The SWIFTT redevelopment is part of a larger review of benefits payments, budgeted to cost $42 million. "We're trying to work within that $42 million," Brewer says. He expects a firmer estimate of ongoing costs to be done in December.
On the face of it, there were about 50 people working on the project, but those numbers were only ramped up in recent times. EDS, which is paid on achieving benchmarks, is understood to have pitched a low rate for the business.
Brewer confirms that the September 1999 deadline is "up for debate".
Industry sources suggest the government was told resources would have to be substantially increased if the September deadline were to be met. It's understood an increase to 95 people was sought.
News of the scaling back came as a surprise to Social Welfare IS coordinator Neil Miranda, who was largely behind the decision to develop in Java. He returned from holiday last Monday to receive the news. Miranda, who was brought in by Social Welfare boss Margaret Bazley earlier last year to get the project on track, has not been involved since September, just prior to the launch of WINZ.
"I was very involved till mid-September, Miranda says. "Everything seemed on track for delivery by September 20 next year."
Miranda's plan was to redevelop in Java but to use C++ on the server till Java was adequately robust. BEA's Tuxedo middleware was purchased to tie together the redevelopment and there was an option to move to M3, BEA's object transaction manager software, which was released earlier this year.
Now, however, it seems likely this will be put on hold and Tuxedo used to tie together the old SWIFTT system to the Oracle system used by Employment Services.
Brewer confirms that what has been delivered to date are the new platforms and the middleware.
Essentially, WINZ has moved away from the Big Bang approach. Parts of SWIFTT will be redeveloped but some parts are unlikely to be. How long this will take is still being worked through.