Printer drivers ate our homework, says NSW Dept of Education

Failing project passes half-billion mark

A half-billion-dollar IT rollout in the New South Wales Department of Education in Australia has turned into a disaster – with a department official blaming incompatibility between operating systems and printers.

In the first parliamentary examination of the nearly decade-old “Learning Management and Business Reform” (LMBR) project since the NSW Auditor-General critiqued the project in December 2014, education minister Adrian Piccoli has refused to tell budget estimators how much the giant SAP rollout is likely to cost, if it's ever completed.

Sky News reports that the minister explained that there are still contracts to be let out to tender, so discussing the likely cost would tip off the industry.

In just over a year, the project has deep-sixed an unexpected $180 million: in April 2014, LMBR's cost was given at $397 million.

Last December, the NSW Auditor-General predicted the project would reach AU$573 million by June 30 2015. That forecast was almost right: the figure is now being put at $576 million.

That's nearly $2 million for each of the 290 schools the system has reached – and the project, begun in 2006, has still only reached pilot stage.

Asked what the final cost would be, Piccoli cited cabinet confidentiality: “It's a cabinet decision and cabinet decisions are confidential by their very nature.”

Without revealing how much the government still expected to pour into the bungled system, Picolli clearly hinted that there's more to come: “I'm not going to jeopardize the process of procurement by disclosing to the market things that are going to go out for competitive tender,” he told the hearing.

Speaking to budge estimates, department secretary Michelle Bruniges said “There were indeed computer compatibility issues that we found in both operating systems and printers.”

The Auditor-General's report last year attributed the project's problems to “changes in business requirements and scope, high level of uncertainty in business cases, weaknesses in governance, and insufficient program and contract management.”

Last year, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the project was failing so badly in schools that debt collectors were called in to chase schools that weren't paying for it.

LMBR was supposed to integrate human resources, finance, payrolls and student information in a single system. The Auditor-General's report criticized the “big bang” approach of the system, saying that in large, complex projects, work should be segmented so that “deliverables are achieved ... within a three-year timeframe.”

Back in 2013, Accenture regarded the project as a success story. ®

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