Library IS project blow-out prompts 'please explain'

A budget blow-out in the National Document and Information Service project between the National Library and its Australian counterpart has led to a 'please explain' from the minister responsible for the library.

A budget blow-out in the National Document and Information Service project between the National Library and its Australian counterpart has led to a "please explain" from Wyatt Creech, the minister responsible for the library.

The library is referring all inquiries to the minister, but his office says he can't comment until he receives a report from the library. A spokesman for the minister says the report is expected next week.

"It seems the problem is with the software, which has led to the possibility of further costs," she says.

The National Library's component of the fixed price $A16 million contract with CSC was $NZ6.9 million. Daily newspaper reports this week suggest the library has already exceeded that by $1.9 million and has committed itself to $7 million more.

"That's bullshit," says Peter Stibbings, director of government services for CSC, which won the prime contract two years ago.

The only genuine figure quoted in New Zealand newspaper reports for the National Library's share--and confirmed by Creech--is an initial cost of around $NZ6.9 million.

"CSC is bearing the lion's share of the cost over-run," Stibbing says.

That's expected to be in the vicinity of $A5 million.

There's a contingency in the original fixed-price contract and, apart from that, it seems all the National Library is up for is the additional costs of involving its staff in the new software programme.

CSC chose Oracle's Tech Server text engine originally, and that's what's behind the budget blow-out. Oracle has since said that it won't support the product past 1998.

Stibbings won't confirm, but industry sources say CSC will be seeking to recover costs from Oracle.

When it became known that Oracle's support had been withdrawn, CSC formed a joint investigation committee with both libraries to find a replacement text engine. It has, but Stibbings says he has been asked by the libraries not to name it.

"We were anticipating an agreement by early November but the National Librarian, Peter Scott, announced his imminent retirement and was reluctant to commit to the product until his successor was appointed.

"Then the minister didn't seek re-election and we were told it would be referred to Cabinet on December 9."

The absence of a government and, therefore, no Cabinet meeting, means the status of the project is unclear. "But it's a piddling amount of money that shouldn't need Cabinet involvement," he says. He won't say how much the amount is but, outside of contract contingencies, it probably runs into a few hundreds of thousands of dollars rather than $9 million.

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