Queensland govt bought wrong IBM product for Health IT: Bligh

Former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has acknowledged that when the state government partnered with IBM to roll out its new health payroll system in 2010, it bought the wrong one.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

No one ever got fired for buying IBM, the adage goes, but what if you purchase the wrong item from Big Blue?

Former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has admitted the Queensland government was at fault for malfunction of the state's AU$1.2 billion health payroll system in 2010, and it was not the failure of hardware or software.

Speaking at the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations, and Datacentre Summit on Tuesday, Bligh said the implementation of the then-new payroll system by IBM was a "catastrophic disaster", which saw 74,000 health staff overpaid, underpaid, or not paid at all.

"The single biggest failure of the project was failure around managing the program and governance of it," she said.

"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."

As a result, Queensland Health was led to believe that it was buying a one-for-one replacement of its previous system, Bligh said.

"We basically got the product we bought, but we bought the wrong one, or we bought one that was not fit for purpose."

Bligh added the government failed to take into account the complexity of the job, as the system was faced with handling almost 200 industrial agreements, which meant there were at least 24,000 possible combinations of allowances and conditions the system had to handle.

Looking back, Bligh said if she were able to do something differently, she would have brought in an external party, such as an auditor, earlier on to oversee the project.

"There was so many people who had been so close to this project, both in IBM and SAP, and within the government agencies, when it came time to unpick what was wrong they couldn't see it, and they were very unwilling to allow themselves to contemplate that they might have made a mistake," she said.

Despite the admission by Bligh, last December, the Queensland government announced it was going to take legal action against IBM over the project, in order to retrieve compensation for the health staff that were wrongly paid.

"Queenslanders were wronged, we believe, in the pay affair, and we intend to recover money for them -- the taxpayers -- the men and women of Queensland," the then Queeensland premier, Campbell Newman, said at the time.

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