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Cycleways, software and openness

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The city council praised itself yesterday for the “robust and open procurement process” that was used to choose its new single-platform software system. But in comparison with the prolonged debate about cycleways (which also reached a decision this week), neither robustness nor openness have been visible during the process of choosing new software.

The cycleway debate had raged for years. Two years ago, Celia Wade-Brown admitted that Wellington was “not doing well with cycling.” Last year it seemed that Island Bay would get the first real cycleway. But instead, arguments continued. There’ve been council debates and public meetings and panels and surveys. There’s been acrimony. Accusations.

The final decision at Thursday’s meeting continued to involve some sharp disagreements. But votes were taken, in public, item by item. And agreement was reached, in public. Announcing the decision, the council’s press release quoted the mayor, the deputy mayor, and Councillor Peck, who played an unexpected role in the final result.

Compare this with the announcement of the decision that the council is to buy readymade IT software from TechnologyOne, an Australian supplier. Confirming the plan yesterday, the council’s press release quoted only chief executive Kevin Lavery. No councillors stated any support for the controversial decision.

And there seem to have been no council debates, though there’s been plenty of online discussion from critics of the plan. There were questions about the actual cost of the new software. And a group of owner-operators of local IT businesses clearly stated their concerns:

Putting all the eggs in one technology basket or with one supplier has a high failure rate, over fifty percent according to some Gartner reports. The lessons from a compulsive approach to outsourcing are clear. Don’t do it….

This approach is ill-suited to New Zealand scale. It delivers little value to our citizens or businesses who would like to bring more capability and innovation to our local government sector.

The software decision was first announced in January, again by the chief executive, who said:

“Our goal from day one has been to vastly improve our current IT systems, which are problematic and costly to maintain. The Council wants to operate from one platform and improve customer service, reduce IT costs, increase integration and business efficiency, and position the Council for future changes in the way we work.”

The statement didn’t include any support from the mayor or councillors, though the executive chairman of the chosen supplier said he was thrilled. Five days later, however, Mayor Wade-Brown issued a statement responding to “some upset among some people in the local IT sector.” She said

In the next three months, council staff will work with TechnologyOne to review the solution in more detail in order to further understand its offering and ensure it will fully meet our requirements. At that point we will make a final decision.

And now the January decision has been confirmed. Apparently with no council debate or vote either on the choice or the local alternatives.