Former IBM boss grilled at Qld inquiry

Summary:A former IBM boss has hit back at claims that he unfairly helped the IT giant win a multimillion-dollar contract to implement and run Queensland Health's payroll system.

An inquiry into the bungled Queensland payroll system is examining whether IBM, which eventually won the contract ahead of rivals Accenture and Logica, was given an unfair advantage during the tender process.

The Queensland Health Payroll System Commission of Inquiry has already heard evidence suggesting that outside contractor Terry Burns helped IBM win the contract by giving the company unfair advice and attention that he did not afford its rivals.

A former IBM boss in South Africa, Burns had been contracted by the government's IT arm, CorpTech, to review the state's whole-of-government shared IT systems.

He took to the stand for the first time on Wednesday, where he was shown an email written by IBM executive Lochlan Bloomfield in May 2007.

It suggested that Burns had been "coaching" IBM and "expecting big things" from the company in terms of involvement in the project.

"I'm sure I would have expressed the same sort of encouragement ... with all vendors," he told the inquiry.

"I expressed the view many times ... we have to come up with a different way to stop the bleeding for Queensland taxpayers."

Burns also denied that he had indicated anything sinister by smiling and telling Bloomfield that he was a "long-time IBMer".

"It's very descriptive, but I'm afraid I have no recollection of using that term," he said.

Burns insisted that his enthusiasm for IBM's involvement was to encourage price competition between vendors, which had been lacking, and was not a priority at CorpTech.

"There was a very, very comfortable demeanour operating in CorpTech at that time," he said. "I was of the opinion that we needed to stir this up, and I wanted all the vendors to understand that there was going to be a very competitive atmosphere."

Burns had also been credited throughout the inquiry with coming up with the prime contractor model that eventually saw IBM in charge of all aspects of the IT services, including Queensland Health's payroll.

But Burns said on Wednesday that while he did support the idea, it was a decision that came about through input from various people.

Thousands of Queensland Health public servants were underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all after IBM's flawed computer system was rolled out in March 2010 under the former Labor government.

The bungle is expected to ultimately cost taxpayers AU$1.2 billion.

Burns will continue his evidence on Thursday.

Topics: Government : AU, IBM

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