Victoria could decommission Ultranet and start again

The Victorian Auditor General has recommended that the State’s Education Department think seriously about decommissioning its troubled Ultranet system and starting again, if it found this was a more cost effective option than continuing to invest into the project.

It’s probably a step that Secretary of the Department of Education, Employment and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), Richard Bolt, has had on his mind for some time.

Earlier this week Bolt was quoted by Fairfax as saying that the DEECD was “looking at the Ultranet in its entirety”.

“We have to ask ourselves fundamental questions as a government, what is our role in developing systems of this kind?” he asked.

The Auditor General, Des Pearson, yesterday released the findings of his review of the “poorly planned”, over-budget and delayed Ultranet roll-out.

Ultranet, the DEECD’s $60.5 million state-wide e-learning system, was announced in November 2006.

By June 2012 it was 80 per cent over budget at $162 million and is expected to be 300 per cent over budget by June 2013 at a total cost of $180 million, according to conservative estimates by the Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO).

The project, which was initially expected to be completed by 2007, began being implemented in schools in 2010, and is yet to meet many of its originally stated goals, including:

  • 24 hour virtual access to classrooms for parents
  • Parental access to learning material and teachers’ emails
  • Consolidation of school administrative functions into a single system
  • Monitoring school attendance, recorded twice a day, with automatic notification

DEECD signed a $64.6 million Ultranet Master Agreement with CSG Services in June 2009, including $47.5 million for delivery of the Ultranet’s Student Learning Portal (based on Oracle software) to all government schools.

CSG has since sold its technology solutions business to NEC, which is now hosting and maintaining the system.

The lengthy procurement process for the project has also come under scrutiny, with the selected preferred tender having originally made a $77.3 million offer that exceeded the project’s budget. The report also highlights doubts that were raised at the time of procurement about the provider’s lack of industry experience, and a proposal that did not follow the request for tender guidelines.

Uptake of the e-learning system has been limited, with only 10 per cent of students and 27 per cent of teachers logging on, representing 4.2 percent of the 1.5 million users projected in DEECD’s 2007 and 2009 business cases.

It has received criticism about its security wall and technical problems, with schools deserting the system before its completion.

Since its initial rollout in May 2010, the project’s troubles have been further exacerbated by its premature transition from a project status to business as usual (BAU) operations in April 2012, prior to the delivery of contractual functionalities including records management, timetabling and student reporting.

The transition to BAU has left the contractor responsible only for hosting and maintenance activities, while technical solutions have been transferred to DEECD’s IT Division. DEECD is now working with the contractor to deliver the remaining functionalities, says the report.

“The Ultranet contract ends on 30 June 2013. Unless the contract is extended, DEECD will need to conduct an open and competitive tender for the continued hosting and maintenance of the Ultranet,” said the report.

The Auditor-General did, however, have some positive news about the DEECD’s undertakings, with the report commending the successful rollout of the VicSmart project from August 2005 to December 2011. The project, which provided high-capacity and high-speed fibre-optic connectivity across the state’s public schools, cost a total of around $211 million and was undertaken by Telstra.

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