Immigration goes live - two years behind schedule

Immigration has finally delivered its new Application Management System - nearly two years late and possibly $4 million over the original budget. The system went live two weeks ago with a Wellington pilot which takes core functions - including a link to Customs - from the mainframe to a client-server environment. It's a sophisticated Microsoft-based development and one of the largest SQL Server projects in New Zealand. But why did it cost so much?

Immigration has finally delivered its new Application Management System — nearly two years late and possibly $4 million over the original budget.

The system went live two weeks ago with a Wellington pilot which takes core functions — including a link to Customs — from the mainframe to a client-server environment.

It's a highly sophisticated Microsoft-based development and one of the largest SQL Server developments in New Zealand.

The original budget for the project was $2.5 million. Sources say that, to date, Immigration has spent $6 million.

But that's not a problem, says Immigration general manager Chris Hampton. It's covered within existing budgets. That, of course, suggests that the IT budget has grown as required to meet the expanded cost of the project.

However, the politicians are obviously concerned about the project. In July Immigration Minister Max Bradford responded to a question in the House from Annette King, who asked what action, if any, had the chief executive of Immigration taken over the past five years to monitor and evaluate progress on AMS. Bradford said the chief executive of the Labour Department (Immigration comes under Labour) had conducted a review of costs, risks and timing of the project to gain assurance that the budget and timeline were sufficient to enable AMS development to be successfully completed and implemented.

In a wry footnote, he recorded the cost of replying to the parliamentary question at approximately $100.

In a supplementary question, King asked what action, if any, had been taken to contain the cost of AMS. It had, said Bradford, been subject to close financial scutiny and risk assessment. There were considerable incentives for the external developer to perform in accordance with the project and cost schedule.

The cost of preparing the answer to that question was just $50.

Hampton says that, unlike many private sector projects, the cost is recoverable. That's because people have to pay for visas and other services.

Two years ago the project was code-name October Office - to be delivered in October 1995. But after first planning to go to tender, the department realised it hadn't done enough work to understand its internal business. It then engaged Azimuth to document its processes..

A tender to develop the software was subsequently let to Hermes Precisa, a decision which surprised the IT industry. The sources say Hermes Precisa was running well over delivery date when its New Zealand subsidiary was sold to Datamail, which decided software development of that nature wasn't the company's core business.

Immigration went back to tender and formed a strategic relationship with Datacom. The rewritten system was then scheduled to go live last July.

Two weeks ago the week-long Wellington pilot was run, with some hiccups for people seeking visas. Though the mainframe system was running in parallel, it was in read-only mode.

However, the pilot was regarded as successful, and the system is now being rolled out nationally, then globally.

Immigration has formed a relationship with SITA subsidiary ITS for international support but is now understood to be talking to both Unisys and HDS top supply similar services.

Industry sources estimate the cost of the delayed system - both in development and maintaining the old mainframe system for the extended period - have blown out to around $6 million.

. The State Services Commission is still unable to say when it will deliver information requested in May by Computerworld under the Official Information Act on Government departmental capital spending and whether planned benefits have been achieved.

Computerworld submitted the request in May, and the Government subsequently sought the same information.

After first giving a July date to respond, the commission said it would deliver the information in September. It now won't commit to a date because it is still testing the data that has been gathered.

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