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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Novopay - An Election Story


This week saw the announcement by the Government that the Novopay payroll system that has been nothing but trouble since it was inflicted on schools in 2012, would be 'taken over' by the Government.   This takeover is due to take place in October.

It appears that Talent2, the Australian company who won, but should never have been given in the first place, the contract, is refusing to spend anymore money on the system.  Together, Talent2 and the Government have worked out a deal that will see a new government owned company set up to take it over.  

You would expect that all the schools and payroll administrators across the country have all let out a collective sigh of relief, right?  

Well sort of.  Allow me to elaborate. 

The takeover of Novopay is akin to a double edged sword.  

One one hand, it's long overdue.  Despite the Minister in charge stating it's better now and within allowable error rates (cough excuse me while I quietly disagree and suggest that if it's 'fixed' then why are you taking it over cough), the reality at the chalk face is not quite as rosey, with issues that still plague payroll.  Not only is it most certainly not fixed, but there are still historic issues that have not been sorted.  Fixing, finally, our schools payroll system is a matter of 'about time!'.  That's the positives taken care off. 

On the other hand, there are some negatives. 

Firstly, the timings odd.  It is blatant electioneering, to claim otherwise would be niave. No longer can the opposition parties claim the Governments failed to do anything - the Minister in charge will be able to stand up and proudly tell the public that he's solved the issue and taken it under Government control.  Sounds fabulous doesn't it?  Let's scratch the surface of 'fabulous' a little and see what lies beneath. 

I come back to, and start with the timing.  Why October?

If Novopay is the 'dog' it's been reported to be, then why wait until October?  Surely if the Government was going to address it they would start right now.  Waiting until October is problematic for schools.  It is so close to end of year payroll handling, that at schools across NZ, administration officers in charge of payroll and Principals are going to get anxious.  If they are not, then they should be.  October does not give the new payroll company appointed by the Government (a company as yet undisclosed) adequate time to make sure any issues are ironed out.  End of year payroll is complex, fraught with issues at the best of time, and comes right before the start of year payroll.  It is the worst time of the year to be 'experimenting' with a new payroll provider.  

One can guess why they chose October.  It's after the election so when it all goes belly up, it will be too late to impact on voters (and if it's a new Government it will be their issue) and to leave it until after the election has meant the general public will think they've finally sorted it. Am I being cynical?  Perhaps.  It doesn't change the fact that the timing is going to cause grief come the end of year and the start of year payroll mechinisims.  

Then there's the issue of the software.   We are stuck with software that's proven to be inadequate and not up to the pressures of a schools payroll.  As already coined by the PM, it's a 'dog'. You can house it in a new kennel, but at the end of the day it's still a 'dog'.  

Finally, there's the issue of this new company.  Apparently the Government owned company that will be taking over Novopay will be a new one.  I have concerns over this.  Despite assurances that current staff will be employed by the new company it's still going to take time for the new company to get to grips with the software (the software that's a 'dog' remember) and the unique challenges that schools face.  A schools payroll is not like a business payroll.  It's quirky, complex and has employees with a range of complicated payroll directions.  To explain would take its own blog! It's one of the reasons Talent2 failed.  You can not take an average payroll system and think it applies here. I wonder how many mistakes will be made during handover?

Once again real people with real mortgages and commitments are going to used as guinea pigs at the most complex time of the year to start tinkering.

Frankly, it's not smart and it's not in the interests of schools, which leaves me to believe its only in the self interest if the Government and the puppeteering that takes place during an election.  

Which leads me to the original premise that taking Novopay off Talent2 is not a story about wanting to ensure a stable payroll for the education system, but a story about political manipulation and electioneering. 

That, my dear reader, is not ok!

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