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Blame shifting

By 1Petermcc  

I can’t help noticing how governments at State and Federal levels seem to struggle with software these days. Robodebt, the Census, Solar rebate software in Victoria, the Education department some years back.

All are outsourced these days and it seems to me the government departments don’t have the skills to test the software before it goes “live”. (Assuming there is any testing done at all).

Initially, the idea of outsourcing was supposed to offer better performance and costs, but I would argue that has not been delivered. All we have achieved is an outsourcing of blame. Now when a system crashes on launch, “It’s the Software”.

Not the department.

Not even the software writing company.

It’s the software. We don’t even get a hint of which company wrote the offending code.

The Education Department item I mentioned above was a magnificent concept that I came into contact with after it went “live” and promptly fell flat on its face. It turned out the hardware in schools was generally not good enough to run Ultranet. Even the testing after the crash was fatally flawed. The testing regime was altered halfway through the project which made comparison testing impossible. (Thank you Hewlett Packard)

I don’t know if that particular software is still in use but I hope so. The concept was brilliant, it just needed a more intelligent roll out process.

Eventually the end customers do the testing for government departments, but wouldn’t it be better if we “did it once and did it right”? It would certainly be cheaper for the taxpayer.

If think I’m sounding like a Grumpy Old Fart this morning, then you would be right on the money. I’ve just been dealing with Centerlink’s on-line system which is about as unfriendly a user interface as I have ever had to deal with. The system isn’t crashing, but one false click and you are dead in the water.

Granted it is trying to cobble together a number of different government departments all in one on-line system, but the use of different terminology, help links that aren’t specific to the box you want to fill, reputed help line phone numbers that offer you further help line phone numbers, and pretty soon you need a Bex and a good lie down. I’m attempting to apply for the Age Pension and the interface is making me feel my age.

The frustrating thing about it all is on-line systems, intelligently designed, should offer a cheap and efficient method of delivering government services. They should inspire confidence in their users and lessen the fear of technology that can often be present.

Unfortunately it doesn’t. It looks cobbled together, doesn’t warn you of expiry of emailed codes, and seems to delight in locking you out of their system.

  • Where would I start to fix the system? How about testing with folk who aren’t software writers?
  • How to measure improvement? Test how many dead accounts are being created and measure the improvement.

And how to improve software rollouts over all departments? Publish the names of the companies writing the code. Nothing like forcing companies to take public responsibility to see their care-factor improve.

Now where did I put that envelope? I’m going to mail this sucker in.

This article was originally publish on 1Petermcc’s blog.

 

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20 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    It is becoming a world run by electronics, technology, all supervised by inadequate below par or idiotic controllers who fail to control. If one cannot control (I do little controlling) then how can one check or correct or adjust? And you cannot usually complain or enquire as the controlling clique seem to be behind a Seigfreid line of defence in mechanical answering or non-responding barriers. It’s a shitty world now; once you could complain, return, enquire, suggest. Let us enjoy our remaining years as dumbed down, deliberately ignored peasants, or is it now electronic slaves in a vague plantation of information distortion, starvation, deprivation..?

  2. Slim Pickens

    The Ultranet is dead, buried and cremated. I believe one of the perpetrators wanted for questioning is still living in the Middle East.
    It definitely did not fail because schools’ hardware was inadequate. It failed because it was badly designed and implemented and the procurement process was corrupt. The authentication subsystem, for example, was an in-house project that proved to be utterly inadequate against all success criteria. To add insult to injury, the department consistently signed off on inadequate bandwidth provision by the then IP provider.

  3. Florence Howarth

    It seems when government outsource, responsibility & accountability goes also.

  4. peter mccarthy

    Thanks for that sad news Slim. I had heard there was going to be some sort of inquiry but didn’t hear the outcome. Heaven forbid someone being held accountable.

    As one of the people doing the testing after the event, I can confirm plenty of the schools didn’t have acceptable bandwidth which comes down to hardware and the Internet provider.

    The concept of educators evolving the system sounded great to me but by the time the problems were teased out, most were over it.

  5. Terence

    PM

    One of the things that seems to cause lots of problem is corporate psychopaths, although to be honest it’s not just IT (Parliament anyone????). I recall one IT project I was involved in at a State Govt level which was sabotaged by these wealth confiscators. These people really do believe that the polished turds on their resume don’t stink, yet the damage they do is huge. What I have seen time and time again is an ego disguised as a human usually lies/cheats/cons their way to lead the project purely so they can climb the greasy pole and shmooze with the beautiful people. However, it becomes apparent, normally after the planning stage, that they really couldn’t organise a root in a brothel with a fist full of dollars. Yet, even when the scoping document is severely lacking, there was no stakeholder engagement (FIGJAM consult with others….ppfft what would they know??) and the communication spin (oops sorry….strategy) would make Donald Trump blush, they still are not shown the door. This tends to be because:

    (a) they are a mate of someone higher up.
    (b) they are an expert at CYA (Cover Your Arse) and therefore will ensure that if they go down then others will drown too.
    (c) Higher management are too gutless to admit that they have NFI

    It’s no accident that outsourcing is ripe in Govt, as you said they can blame someone else. This is because you now have corporate psychopaths with no actual skills infesting executive positions and their only concern is themselves. Everything is seen as a threat to their objective of more money/power/status and therefore such things need to be managed or eliminated. Actually doing the job right is no concern to them and really it never was. I don’t see a way out of this greed/narcissistic cycle that we are in and I fear for my daughter’s future. Despite the benefits, social media is making our species dumber because it give the stupid a voice and allows people to circle jerk with like minded idiots. We’ve lost the ability to challenge and better ourselves, to seek and embrace new ideas even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s much easier to surround yourself with confirmation bias and reinforce your own prejudices than to admit your were wrong and grow from that.

    Obama stated that we are in an empathy deficit, I suspect we are in a full blown empathy recession.

  6. New England Cocky

    Not surprising to learn the nothing has changed in the Education Department since 1984 when I volunteered to write a program suite to manage a large high school and was declined with “Computers will never amount to vey much in education”.

    Then in 1988, the Greiner Liarbral Nat$ misgovernment chopped up Education Head Office, despatching about 1100 semi-retired escapees from the chalk-face to the scrap heap, or if they had any influence, another post in Education.

    The then Head of Computer Evaluation had run a staff of about 30 persons evaluating commercial computer programs for suitability in NSW schools. His demise was softened by a transfer to a metropolitan District Inspector’s post supplemented by about a $26,000 annual increase in salary. A nice financial salve to a wounded ego in 1988 values.

  7. peter mccarthy

    Wow, New England Cocky. That’s one hell of a salve in 1988 dollars.

  8. peter mccarthy

    Terence, just this morning I was asked if I watch Utopia?

    My reply was “No. It’s too depressing.”

    Having done 9 years at Telstra many years ago, Corporate catch phrases drive me mad and the arse covering is salt into the wound. Sad to say when I later went into private enterprise as a Contractor it was no more efficient. Rolling out PCs at the Royal Children’s new building, I pointed out how one process was going to fail. The answer was “Yeah. I know. But the contract is only for this bit. We can bid for the new contract when they realise they have a problem.”

    Needless to say, I find watching Trump’s appointees fawning over their Dear Leader in front of the media is vomit inducing.

  9. John Holmes

    A depressing but accurate read. Started my experience with Computing and Computers in 1967 at UWA. We had high Priests managing the system, as well as punch card princesses doing the data entry. We treated the Princesses Royally as if not, one hole in the wrong place would stop the system. The Priests told us what we could do. Later as PC’s came the role of the High Priest declined and we could hack the system to make it work as we wanted.

    Now with the security scares, things cannot be hacked so simply. This just handicaps the users. Unless your needs and uses match those options programed in, it is useless.

    Likewise the outsourcing of software from large Departments etc separates the software developers from the users. Hence the rise of nearly unusable software as found on many web sites ‘MyGov’.

    At least in many organization with in house software developers they have morning or afternoon tea with those who are the planners or instigators of the project, or are interacting with the customer. The heresy of ‘Out sourcing’ cuts that off completely.

    See too much waste over the years, and wasted allot of time trying to adapt software for my projects.

  10. Pete Petrass

    You neglected to mention that we sign massive contracts with these private companies to provide software with no guarantee that it will work, and the taxpayer is then forced to pay more to correct the faults, and then when the faults still are not fixed then the end users just have to make do with it like it is and work around the faults.
    Then when the next contract comes around we hire the same companies for the same end result, a vicious circle if you like.
    I myself was involved in some testing of software a few years ago for Defence. I was a hardware tester and was called in to ensure the approved hardware was functional with the new software. We had a checklist of items to test for and the way the testing regime was setup this was physically impossible (testing hardware with the software when the hardware was not available or the software was not setup to be able to use it). The result was my checklist was mostly X’s in lieu of ticks. I suspect my checklist went in the bin because a senior contractor there had his knickers in massive knots over my response because he expected me to just tick them all off.

  11. Matters Not

    Pete Petrass re:

    we sign …

    Actually the we don’t. Strictly speaking, it’s the elected government (broadly defined to include Ministers, public servants etc) that actually do the signing. And they do so without making any reference to individuals, companies, et al. Or haven’t they got my number or address and my consultation(s) keeps getting lost in transit? LOL.

    Further:

    the taxpayer is then forced to pay more to correct the faults

    Don’t think so. The only monies taxpayers hand over are the taxes they are legally obliged to pay (to government). Having fulfilled that legal obligation, taxpayers, whether they be really big taxpayers, like the Banks, BHP etc, or very small taxpayers, like the vast bulk of the population, have no further control of those funds. Nor can they be forced to pay more to correct those faults. And that’s how it should be. Governments pay and governments therefore must be held accountable for the expenditure of public funds, because governments are the decision makers. Not the taxpayers.

    But never mind – the vast bulk of the population (including politicians, the MSM, the citizens, the taxpayers etc) have no conceptual understanding of the reality. The concepts of taxpayer and citizen (and the distinct roles they play) become conflated, so any words will do. LOL.

  12. peter mccarthy

    I know where you are coming from Pete. On the Ultranet project ass cover exercise HP’s software didn’t register Win 95 machines. The 2nd iteration did, but couldn’t see the Windows for Workgroups. Knowing the serious failings in their testing, I asked the local techs on site for the actual numbers.

    I realised we were in trouble on the first test day. 4 engineers (from memory) but none of their technicians. It went exactly as you might assume. 😉

  13. Terence

    Matters Not

    I understand where you are coming from but it’s not entirely correct. Yes when Govt receipt taxes, it’s the Govt not the taxpayers who have “Further control”. However there is an opportunity cost to Govt’s Fark Ups i.e. if they need to inject funds to fix their FU into the economy rather than into other capital projects then this will affect their taxation policy because it needs to offset any inflationary factors. I’m no Dr Economist and there might be an argument that their FU might be offset by excess capacity in the economy but IMHO FUs do cost taxpayers money because fund that could have been utilised elsewhere in the economy to create more productive investments are instead spent on on things that should have been done right in the first place. MMT states that this might be irrelevant because Govts can effectively print money (can’t run out of their own currency) but again I’m not sure about the wider implications on foreign currency markets, current account balances, etc.

    I do agree that the MSM and the Pauline Palmer deadshits are holding the country back because of their blind ignorance but how do you combat social media confirmation bias and a society who are happy to be pushed towards social retardness because they don’t have the emotional intelligence for self improvement? No saying that you fit that category but if you look around the world, the fact that the vast majority can’t see the parallels with the 1930’s and populist nationalism indicates to me that the human race hasn’t advanced too much in 90 years.

    I agree that the PS and the wealth confiscaters (i.e. Politicians, Think Tank sycophants – see IPA, Bum Farkin Dominators – see Alan Jones/Rupert Murdoch and other swallowing c#cksuckers – see Sky News After Dark/The Australian have more say in the political process due to the great unwashed apathy. Unfortunately that’s the way everyone likes it especially the politicians.

    As my God and oh wise one Sir Humphrey once said “they (the voter “sic”) have the right to be ignorant. Knowledge implies complicity, ignorance has a certain Dignity.

  14. Matters Not

    Terence, when it comes to computers and predicting the future, it seems even the experts get it wrong.

    I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

    • “I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.

    • “But what…is it good for?” — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

    • “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

    • “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” — Bill Gates, 1981.

    • “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” — Western Union internal memo, 1876.

    • “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the British Post Office, 1876.

    • “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.” — Lee DeForest, inventor.

    And of more recent times –

    No household needs more than 25Mb – Abbott and Turnbull 2013.

    As for:

    not sure about the wider implications on foreign currency markets, current account balances ..

    Neither am I. And in general terms, I note that most MMT proponents seem to proceed on the assumption we operate in a closed economy. But I don’t claim to ‘know’.

  15. RosemaryJ36

    Peter McC I have generally had fewer headaches dealing with real people at a Centrelink office than with MyGov.
    In 2005 I quit full-time work to live on my super and study full-time. I was initially found eligible for a small pension, which was cancelled when I found I was entitled to an equally small UK pension – which was not indexed.
    A few years down the track I had another – successful go. On a few subsequent occasions I have needed to discuss issues and have had good service from Centrelink staff.
    I am fortunate that, without having expertise with IT, I have been using computers, starting with the Apple Mac but now with a PC, since 1989. I find MyGov moderately easy to navigate for simple issues, including uploading PDF documents.

  16. Terence

    Matters Not

    I hope you had your tongue firmly planted in your cheek when you used the words Rabbott/Turncoat and Experts in the same post?

  17. Matters Not

    Terence – while many in Australia may ridicule Abbott, he’s now carved out a new career as an international advisor on migration, or at least, how to prevent same. Currently, Abbott is in Hungary to attend the 3rd Budapest Demography Summit. A great honour apparently.

    https://hungarytoday.hu/orban-and-former-pm-abbott-agree-on-need-of-strict-border-protection/

    Orban is a great mate of Trump as is Morrison. By their mates – you shall know them.

    As for Turnbull – apparently he invented the Internet – according to Abbott.

  18. Matters Not

    Speaking of ‘blame shifting’, we are about to see Dutton completely lose it because of the latest decision of the Federal Court to delay a ruling re the expulsion of that certain Tamil Family.

    While most people in Australia don’t understand the Separation of Powers concept (understandable because we only have a pale version of the real deal), not so the Judiciary. Been saying for some time that those who wear judicial robes have been itching to get their hands on Dutton whose hatred for all things judicial is well known and often practised. Now they have the chance and, needless to say, have pounced – postponing a final decision for a whole twelve (12) days.

    No doubt an act of (political and judicial) bastardry which will allow public dissent to fester and more protests to erupt. They ought to be congratulated. Dutton’s cat is in for a flogging.

  19. Zathras

    I recall Howard wasting a billion-odd dollars on the failed contracting out of government IT services.

    Likewise some years ago the NSW government decided that it would save money by bypassing Telstra and setting up their own internal telecoms network but eventually had to call on Telstra to sort it out when it didn’t work.

    The now-defunct CDMA network was established as a political stop-gap to appease rural voters when GSM naturally couldn’t match the coverage of the analogue network. It’s now billions of dollars of landfill.

    The legacy of a dumbed-down NBN was the result of political spin and the influence of media lobbyists.

    Military spending waste on helicopters that will never fly and submarines that may never be finished are also typical.

    When technological decisions are made in spite of conflicting advice but on the basis of ideology at least they have the taxpayer to bail them out – again and again.

  20. peter mccarthy

    Rosemary, I’m more than happy with the staff at Centerlink as well but living up in the hills means tracking down to Morwell when it should be much simpler. I’ve worked on plenty of interfaces, including a lot of User testing on a Y2k project, and it looks to me like MyGov is an attempt to bring it all together but with nobody actually owning the beast. It’s a rudimentary system that could do with being humanised.

    Eventually the learning curve is conquered, but considering the savings to be made when folk embrace it, I believe it’s worth improving so more folk turn to it for their main interaction.

    Happily (?) I will be trying the uploads with my payslips next. That will be very helpful.

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