IT not to blame for Queensland health debacle: Government advisor

Government advisor and non-executive director Monica Bradley believes a majority of government failures have nothing to do with technology.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

IT was not to blame for the Queensland government's AU$1.2 billion health payroll bungle that saw 74,000 health staff members underpaid, overpaid, or not at paid at all in 2010, according to Monica Bradley, government advisor and non-executive director.

"That was an epic failure," Bradley pointed out when asked to provide an example of a massive failure during the annual Technology in Government conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

"It cost the ministry's job; it probably cost the Bligh government at the end of the day. It was a poorly managed project; it was poor all the way through to procurement, through to the politicisation, through pressure over succession governments to make it quick, it then became politicised in the end."

According to Bradley, the core cause of the failure was not IT, but rather the project was designed to solve the wrong problem.

"The problem at the centre of that was that we had a way too complex human problem between employees and how they were categorised into the health department, and how we remunerate and how we contracted them. That was the problem, it wasn't an IT problem," she said.

Former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh presented a similar argument last year in May, admitting that the Queensland government had bought the wrong product from IBM.

She also said at the time that the single biggest failure of the project was around managing the program and governance of it.

"There was no real clarity of governance. There was one part of the government that was responsible for whole-of-government IT in a shared service provider model, and then we had the line agency Queensland Health," the former premier said.

"Between those two agencies, there was not a single point of accountability. So everybody was in charge, which ultimately meant nobody was."

In May, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was probed about another possible debacle concerning payment errors for nursing staff at Queensland Health, into which she vowed to look.

Deputy Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington tabled an email in Parliament at the time, warning of pay errors.

"Payroll has alerted me this morning several documents we sent to them last fortnight were not updated in Workbrain [the pay system]," the email, signed by an acting nurse manager called "Drew", read.

"Can you please check you [sic] latest pay advice on streamline.

"If you think you have an error or missed payment, please come and see ... me."

In response, Palaszczuk said: "I'm happy to look in more detail about this email -- it is very generic."

Bradley also highlighted on Tuesday that most failures for many governments are "very rarely" related to technology, but rather it is "most likely politicised or some kind of decision in government outside of the tech team".

"So there's a massive disconnection between the humans who operate the system and someone that is living inside and can only speak acronyms," she said.

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