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Qld's payroll disaster still a mystery

KPMG's first report into Queensland Health's ongoing payroll disaster has not been enlightening. Indeed, reading it made me feel as though I had been lobotomised and had every sensory organ in my body completely insulated by a smothering layer of cotton wool.
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Written by Renai LeMay on

commentary KPMG's first report into Queensland Health's ongoing payroll disaster has not been enlightening. Indeed, reading it made me feel as though I had been lobotomised and had every sensory organ in my body completely insulated by a smothering layer of cotton wool.

Tens of thousands of staff were underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all under a new SAP-based payroll system introduced last month. Following these issues, the director-general of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet engaged KPMG to conduct an independent review of the implementation of the new payroll system in Queensland Health.

However, the report hasn't exactly shone a light on the issue. There are plenty of great-sounding words in it that have clearly been inserted by someone with a high vocabulary. The only problem is that they don't make semantic sense when you read them in order. For example, I couldn't work out what this paragraph really meant:

Information on defects and systems issues was being captured separately in each of these aforementioned issues logs. It was therefore difficult to form a complete view of the systems issues and this was a major weakness. Whilst work was being undertaken to address issues, this was not being undertaken in an integrated and coordinated way. This therefore impacted on the ability of the team to prioritise activities in these areas and also impacted on communication with stakeholders.

I could ask a million questions about a paragraph like this. For instance: what sorts of defects was Queensland Health experiencing, and in what systems? How did they creep in? When were they first experienced? What problems did they cause? Whose responsibility was it to fix them? What work was undertaken to fix them?

None of these questions are answered in the report.

Or how about this pearler, which was contained in the "Moving Forward" section of the report — its broad conclusion:

Progress has been made by Queensland Health in how the Payroll Stabilisation Project Team is structured and resourced. The project structure which has now been adopted provides a more integrated and consistent approach to the identification, assessment and resolution of these issues. The project structure and its resourcing will need to continue to evolve as further activity is undertaken across the various workstreams of the project."

See what I mean? Doesn't it sound like something out of Yes, Minister? My brain keeps on screaming at me — what does this all really mean?

KPMG was given a firm brief for this first report into Queensland Health's ongoing payroll problems, which stem from the introduction of a new SAP-based system in March this year.

The problems have resulted in 1800 staff across the state receiving little or no pay in some periods since that time and have caused an absolute uproar in Queensland's media.

The consulting firm's mission was to consider and challenge the processes, procedures and metrics being adopted by Queensland Health to ensure that the next two pay cycles under the new system proceed with "an acceptable range of accuracy and timeliness" for a payroll the size of Queensland Health's — affecting 74,000 staff.

KPMG's job has also been to provide advice on the most appropriate governance arrangements for the payroll project in the short term.

I understand that KPMG's job in this first preliminary report is not to conduct a full review of what went wrong in Queensland Health's payroll project. That will be done in subsequent reports.

But surely it would have been appropriate to provide a bit more detail to the public about what's actually going on inside the department, when the problem is on such a large scale.

The report does not name anyone who might be responsible for Queensland Health's woes or for fixing them. It does not mention what precise role the vendors involved — SAP and IBM have played in the problems or are playing in their resolutions.

It does not go into any technical detail whatsoever about what exactly has been malfunctioning in Queensland Health's new pay system, or how the department is planning to fix those problems, even in the short term. There are simply no technical details involved at all — a staggering black mark on the report, when you consider that this is a highly technical project.

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(Lubbock Heart Hospital image by
brykmantra, CC BY-SA 2.0)

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