Novopay: History of Incompetence Repeats

This is incredible. Major incompetence and I predict the downfall of the current government.

This was posted by one of my students Phil of Facebook:

“If anyone in NZ is following the Novopay debacle – where the payroll for all state-employed teachers was taken over by some failed software company from Oz, and nobody has been paid correctly in just over 4 months – the ridiculousness of the whole thing has hit a new high (or low). I have been paid by the Ministry of Education a “salary” of a significant value, deposited directly into my bank account. Thats nice, except I am not now, nor have I ever been employed by the Ministry of Education. This money, that should have been going to a teacher (I hope) has come to me and I dont know where it needs to go. The money will have come out of the funds of a school, somewhere in New Zealand, and there is a real good chance that the Ministry of Education will never know where it was supposed to go. They paid a school caretaker the equivalent of $68,000 an hour this week. Caretakers do good work, sure, but even $68k/hour is a bit rich. Before you ask, yes, I will be giving it back, but I just dont know how, or to whom. I have no access to the Novopay help desk directly, and the Principal of the school where I am on the Board of Trustees is now on holiday, and I want him to relax for a change. I hope that this kind of shite is the straw that broke the back of the stupidest group of morons with whom I have ever had to deal – the Minister for Education and her public ‘servant’ minions.”

I am annoyed for 3 reasons:

1. The above is just plain stupid. Heads must role including the Minister. This also puts teachers under considerable stress. Key and Parata: time to get back off that holiday because this is a crisis.

2. This is taxpayer money: just flitted around and wasted. Who knows what has gone wrong. Some people may not give the money back. Who knows?

3. This is a repeat of history. See the paper by Professor Michael Myers in 1994. 1994 MYERS, M.,  ‘A Disaster for Everyone to See: An Interpretive Analysis of a Failed IS Project‘, Accounting, Management and Information Technologies, Vol. 4, 4, 185-201. [Full paper: Myers_1994_AMIT].


  1. K J Aldous says:

    It seems to me that Novopay is different from most of other IT disasters. My impression that the most common cause of failure is over-estimation of the capabilities of the technology. The 1978 Health Department patient records system required better communications infrastructure than was available at the time, and perhaps more processing power. INCIS assumed that Windows was much easier to use than was the case (although the idea of using a PC in a motor vehicle was pretty stupid). The several attempts by the NHS at devising patient record systems, with the possible exception of the most recent fiasco, were too ambitious for the communications software of the time. NDIS ran into the mud because the various interests were unable to produce a coherent statement of requirements, so it is unclear whether it would have been technically feasible, although I suspect it would not. But Novopay has no technical requirements not easily met by current technology. I cannot see that it would be much different from the earlier Datacom system – a few more bells, whistles, turrets and pinnacles, perhaps. From the nature of the errors, such as that described by Phil, it seems that the payroll database has become corrupted (which, as the Anglican prayer book kindly reminds us, is the fate of anything devised by the wit of man), in which case recovery could be a process fraught and protracted.


  2. Robert Davis says:

    Excellent analysis. Thank you!


  3. DR says:

    Is it possible to get a follow up of what happened from Phil?


    • Robert Davis says:

      From Phil: “Hi Robert. We received a ‘payslip’ three days later via email. The payslip couldnt be opened because of password protection (we dont have the password). The email, however, was addressed to my wife, who had done 20+ hours part time work for the school back in July. The holiday pay she received was a considerable amount more than the actual pay she received. There were three other such payments made to erstwhile employees of the school prior to Christmas. We are waiting for the s**t to hit the fan today.”


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