An Auditor-General report into the ACT’s now-abandoned Human Resources Information Management System (HRIMS) has concluded the nearly $78 million project was “a significant failure for the Territory”.
“Every aspect of the HRIMS program, including its planning, governance and administration and management arrangements, was characterised by multiple failures at all levels,” the report said.
As part of the 2017-18 ACT Budget, $15 million was approved for the design and implementation of the new whole-of-government system, which sought to upgrade existing HR and payroll systems.
Work commenced on the program in March 2017 and was expected to take between 29 and 39 months to complete.
Only one module, the Learning Management System, was delivered before the program was scrapped in June 2023. By that time, the total cost of the project was $77.63 million.
This total cost does not include significant costs incurred across directorates and agencies that were participating in and assisting with the implementation of the program.
The report has one recommendation, that the ACT Government should table a response in the Legislative Assembly detailing the actions to be taken to address the failures identified in the report.
A spokesperson said the ACT Government acknowledges the report and accepts its recommendation.
“Following the ACT Government’s two reviews by Deloitte and the ‘Leeper Review’, the government made a decision in the Budget to discontinue the HRIMS project, avoiding future additional costs of $140 million on the project,” the spokesperson said.
“Reviews undertaken and lessons learnt from the project are already informing updated governance arrangements for new ICT projects in the Territory.”
The report says that the 2017-18 Budget Business Case identified the risks for similar projects and noted several high-profile failures in the delivery of large HRIMS programs.
However, the Auditor-General concluded that “planning for the HRIMS Program was poor” and said it failed to take into account the complexities of the ACT Public Service industrial relations environment.
“The Territory failed to finalise and endorse basic program management documents for the HRIMS Program. The report said that two Program Plans were prepared but never finalised, approved or endorsed by relevant governance bodies,” the report said.
“Complexities and key risks associated with the harmonisation of HR and payroll systems across the ACT Public Service were therefore not appropriately planned for. These failings contributed to a loss of control in the implementation of the HRIMS Program.”
The Auditor-General identified further issues as the program progressed. The report said there were multiple redesigns of the program’s governance arrangements, which led to confusion.
“Program monitoring and assurance arrangements were poor, including quality assurance, program reporting and risk management activities. Although risks and issues were reported to governance bodies, the governance bodies did not appropriately recognise and manage the risks and issues,” it said.
The report said that the program was not effectively overseen by the Strategic Board, which received no formal advice regarding the program’s performance between June 2019 and April 2021 – the period when most of the activities set out in the program plans were set to be delivered.
“Issues associated with the performance of the program, the slippages experienced, and the challenges associated with business process harmonisation and adoption were not formally reported to the Strategic Board until April 2021,” it said.
Consulting firm EY was engaged as the project’s implementation partner from April 2019 under a contract worth just over $18 million.
According to the report, of the 74 deliverables associated with the project, EY and the ACT Government were equally responsible for 56 of them (or 76 per cent).
“Although it is reasonable to expect that some of the deliverables would require collaboration between the Territory and EY, making each party ‘responsible’ meant that it was not clear which party was ultimately responsible for taking the lead on the deliverable. The ambiguity of such an approach placed the effective delivery of the services at risk,” the report said.
The work order and statement of work between EY and the Territory outlined requirements for a performance management framework to manage EY’s contractual obligations.
However, the documents allowed for the practical details of the performance management framework to be agreed upon later.
“By not developing and agreeing on the details of the performance management framework at the outset, the Territory was subsequently hampered in its efforts to implement robust performance management practices,” the report said.
The Auditor-General also found that contract management foundation documents, such as a contract management plan or risk management plan, were not finalised or endorsed.
Shadow Assistant Treasurer Peter Cain called the program a “gross failure of public administration”.
“The HRIMS Program was initially approved for a budget of $15 million, yet it blew out to at least $77.63 million with only one of its modules delivered. That is disgraceful,” he said.
“This encapsulates everything that is wrong with the Labor-Greens government: obscene over-spending, terrible service delivery and zero accountability for those responsible.
“The gross failure of public administration that is the HRIMS Program should make all Canberrans very concerned about this Labor-Greens government.”