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English county council blasted for 'inept project management' in delayed SAP replacement

Questions remain over whether Surrey's £3.2m budget increase will avoid further delay

A Surrey councillor has slammed his county council's £1bn-budget effort to replace its ERP system, describing it as "inept project management."

Resources and Performance Select Committee chairman Steven McCormick told a council meeting the public body was mismanaging taxpayers' money by overpaying £3.2m on a new Unit4-based SaaS system to support payroll, HR, finance and procurement functions.

At a budget meeting yesterday, he said: "This is an inexcusable waste of public money, wholly avoidable with proper planning and competent implementation."

Earlier this month The Reg revealed the council had incurred the additional costs on the project as the go-live date was reset for April 2022.

The southeast England council had planned to go live with the new system in December 2021.

Surrey councillor and resources committee member McCormick said: "There has been at least four months delay, with continuing risk and extra cost to the Surrey council taxpayer of £3.2 million. That is inept project management, despite a clear warning."

A meeting in January heard that problems with the project to replace an SAP R/3 system - dating back to 2004 - with a SaaS application were known in June but not discussed with key council committees until after September. In April and June last year, new requirements from the HR department continued to arrive after the main software build was complete.

The application supplier assured the southern-England council these changes could be accommodated within the original project timeline, but by September it became clear it wasn't going to make that December 2021 launch date, the Resources and Performance Select Committee meeting heard late last month.

The project delay created additional support costs from the incumbent supplier. The original business case pointed out that it would need to "provide notice to SAP by September 2021 to end support & maintenance contract by January 2022" or negotiate a contract extension with the supplier of the legacy system.

That contract was re-negotiated and extended in October, at a £700k additional cost to the council.

The Unit4 contract got off to an inauspicious start when it was erroneously advertised as a £40m deal in January, which the council was later forced to correct.

As it planned the procurement the council docs said: "The existing server hardware has reached end of life and is on expensive extended support, with costs increasing every year."

While the existing system is nearly 18 years old, it has been re-platformed several times in an effort to save the council money running it.

Criticism of the Conservative-party-led council from the Residents' Association and Independent Group came at a Budget Meeting on Tuesday. The meeting refused to back calls to use £150m reserves to spend more on public health and avoid a £77 rise in annual council tax bills. ®

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