There are generally two schools of thought when implementing an enterprise resource management system of some kind: you can either tailor the ERP software to conform to your business operating practices or take the less-common path and conform your business practices to align to the pre-defined processes in the ERP software.
Well, apparently some of the nurses who work for the Queensland Health service have decided to apply a version of the second approach as a means of coping with the ongoing payroll problems that have been plaguing them for the past 17 months or so.
If you are not familiar with the situation, the Queensland Health service installed a massively late, over-budget and under-tested payroll system on the 24th of March, 2010. Immediately, technical deficiencies surfaced, resulting in many of the 80,000 Queensland Health staff going unpaid, some getting paid incorrectly by too much or too little, and some past employees (who had quit a year before or had died) getting paid. Some staff were getting paid but with blank payroll slips to tell them what was taken out of their pay. Some staff decided to quit over the problem.
In early July, health service management declared that the payroll system had finally been stabilized after more than AU $209 million had been thrown at it on top of the $102 million already spent. Shortly following this announcement came the embarrassing admission that there had been another hiccup in the payroll system.
Now, an Australian Associated Press story published on Ninemsn.com alleges that some Queensland nurses are "refusing to work certain shifts out of fear they won't be paid properly." As a consequence, it is claimed, hospital personnel shortages are starting to crop up.
Apparently, it isn't the payroll system that is causing the problem as much as it is the inability of the payroll staff to process the required time-sheet paperwork in a timely fashion when there are nursing shift changes late in the payroll period. In many cases, it appears that the paperwork is routinely getting "lost" or not getting entered into the system by the payroll department.
The nurses, when they find out later that they did not get paid for the work they performed, sometimes don't even try to get the underpayments fixed. As a nurse explained in the article, "...it's such a convoluted...process to get it back...people are not bothering to rectify underpayments because it takes so much time and it ends up being more screwed up."
I suspect that the Queensland Health payroll staff are not deliberately messing up the nurses' pay as much as they are just overwhelmed and understaffed themselves. For example, in late June, Queensland Health payroll department staff held protests demanding that they be better compensated for the long hours they had to put in to try and rectify the ongoing payroll system problems for the previous year-plus. They were basically told by senior management that they had nothing to complain about and to get back to work.
Nothing like improving morale and motivating staff with a few encouraging words.
In addition, as I noted in an earlier post, there are three times as many staff members chasing down overpayments than those assigned to help workers left underpaid in the past by the faulty payroll system. So rectifying newly created underpayments is probably not seen as a high priority.
And as I have said before, the situation at Queensland Health just keeps getting stranger and sadder every week. A truly shambolic IT project mess if there ever was one.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.