Shared regional council platform launched, a year late

Time was sacrificed to preserve budget and scope as signs of a blowout emerged, according to the project manager.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

An Integrated Regional Information Systems (IRIS) to be shared by six New Zealand regional councils has been launched, over a year later than originally planned.

Datacom and Regional Software Holdings — which owns the intellectual property of IRIS on behalf of the councils — today announced the launch of the system, designed to manage core Regional Council functions, including the regulatory areas of consents, compliance, biosecurity, and enforcement.

However, that was over a year later than originally planned.

Project director Derek Postlewaight said go-live was originally planned for the third quarter of 2011 but that had to be pushed out to the end of 2012. He said the software was delivered to that second timeline and the last few months have been spent on implementation and data migration.

"In early 2010 we started to run into complexity issues, particularly around the Resource Management Act and how to deal with those requirements," Postlewaight said. "The work was more complex and harder to develop than originally anticipated."

Postlewaight said the project team was concerned at what could have been signs of a project blowout, so work was stopped and several months of reassessment and refinement.

Risk procedures were escalated, he said. The end result was a new plan that delivered to within a high 90% number on scope and within budget at the expense of taking more time to deliver.

"We took the impact on time to protect the other elements," he said.

Council documents (PDF) indicate that provider Datacom may have worn some of the costs.

A report to the finance and audit committee of the Waikato Regional Council said that as a result of reassessment work in May 2011, Datacom presented a proposal for the completion of the project.

"This proposal was accepted by the Regional Council Collaborative Development Group (RCCDG) steering committee, and development work recommenced in late May 2011.

"In the new proposal, Datacom has honoured the estimates that they provided when the development project was started. The increased complexity of the project and the impacts of delay as issues were sorted, and are reflected in the new project timeline. Development is now expected to complete in December 2012.

"The risks for the RCCDG have decreased. Datacom is undertaking the remaining development for a fixed price. The RCCDG will have to pay more for any variations (errors of omission), new requirements that may be introduced say as a result of legislative changes, and for any delays caused by the unavailability of Council staff.

"The RCCDG budget includes some limited contingency funds to cover these possibilities, and with the exception of legislative changes, we are confident we will be able to manage variations within the contingency budget. There should not be any flow-on of cost increases to participating councils."

Postlewaight said the development and project costs of IRIS were held to a very cost-effective NZ$5.1 million. However, that does not include each council's cost for implementation, or the cost of council staff time outside of the core management group.

Requests for "nice-to-have" changes and variations have been stored, according to council documents (PDF), and will be prioritised at a later date.

Datacom worked with a group of six regional councils across New Zealand to develop the custom-built software solution after off-the-shelf systems were rejected. IRIS aims at providing a central point of control for a previously disconnected set of Regional Council information needs.

"We are proud of this joint achievement in delivering this highly strategic local government project that defines our vision, showcases our expert sector knowledge, and signals the potential of this collaborative approach," Datacom's New Zealand CEO, Greg Davidson, said.

The system includes workflow that assists councils to follow business processes and meet deadlines, reduce exposure to financial penalties, and provide better service to their customers. IRIS also integrates with other systems including document management and financials.

It will soon be extended to include public interaction and engagement capability and mobile device/field data capture for council staff.

The regional councils involved in the project are Northland, Horizons, Taranaki, Waikato, West Coast, and Environment Southland.

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