System, many years in development, labelled a dud

A new computer system, which has taken at least five years to develop, has been labelled a dud and caused dissent between a child support agency and a union body.

Complaints from concerned staff at the Child Support Agency (CSA) regarding a new computer system called Cuba, has stirred the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) to investigate.

The union has demanded the agency's senior national management explain what its long-term IT strategy is, and why a system which it claims has taken seven years to develop is "a dud".

CPSU spokesperson Peter Girdler said the new system, introduced three weeks ago, "was a seven-year IT project plagued from the beginning".

Cuba, which replaced a legacy system that had served the agency for 13 years, was brought in without proper testing and was not rolled out from site to site, but introduced in a "switch on, switch off fashion", Girdler said.

However, a spokesperson from the agency, Michelle Hocking said the union's claims are exaggerated.

"There has been no crisis."

Hocking acknowledged there have been "teething problems" with Cuba, but these have not resulted in any late payments and most of these issues have been addressed.

"It's a large system and quite complex. There were problems but most of them have been ironed out," she said.

As the first significant IT upgrade for CSA, Cuba cost an unknown, but "massive" sum, Girdler said, adding that Cuba arrived three years late with major design flaws.

"The system is not designed for the users. On the previous system, client contact staff could find most of the information they needed on a single screen. On Cuba, it can take up to 16 separate mouse-clicks to get the same information."

Hocking said this was a false claim.

"The old system never had that functionality with all the information on the one screen. Yes, the staff are adjusting to the new system and the way information is presented is different to the old system."

According to Hocking, Cuba was under development for five years, not seven as the union claims. Cuba did not meet its original release date, in part due to legislative changes that had to be incorporated into the system.

CPSU says it has received complaints from CSA staff, reporting a "worrying array of system failures".

There is also evidence of a high level of data corruption in the migration from the old system to the new one, Girdler said.

"The data must be properly data cleansed. But it seems this was not done properly so the wrong information has gone out. Where previously it would have been picked up by users, now it's automatically generated," he said.

Additionally, Girdler said, the system failed to interface with Centrelink's system, which led to delayed or incorrect payments. Also, some child support data from the agency, which is needed to calculate benefits, was incorrect which further impacted payments.

"Centrelink's system is not accepting data from CSA records that determines level of income families are supposed to be receiving," Girdler said.

Hocking said there were delays with interfacing with Centrelink but this was fixed within the first week. Hocking was "not aware of any incorrect payments".

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