Politics

Minister not briefed on more critical independent Phoenix payroll analysis before rollout

The minister in charge of modernizing the federal government's payroll system was not told about an independent analysis of the Phoenix system. The report raises departmental concerns about the computerized program, but does not call for the rollout to be stopped.

Report suggested slowdown of rollout to mitigate risk

Two independent studies of the Phoenix pay system were delivered to ministry staff before the first phase of the program was launched in February. Public Services Minister Judy Foote only saw one of the reports. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The minister in charge of modernizing the federal government's payroll system was not briefed on one of the two independent reports prepared by consultants on the Phoenix pay system. 

The government-ordered report by Gartner Consulting, which the minister was not shown, appears to point out a wider range of concerns than the analysis the minister received, including a warning about the "accuracy and timeliness of pay." 

Although the Gartner analysis does not say the Phoenix launch should have been stopped, it offers suggestions to mitigate risks, including slowing down the rollout process. 

But Judy Foote, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, defended the departmental staffers who did not provide the briefing. 

"I think they made the decision, looking at both reports, there really wasn't anything significantly different in them. So they decided to present one and that was fine as long as I was getting what information I needed to make a good decision," Foote said.

The Gartner report was one of two independent studies of the Phoenix pay system delivered to departmental staff before the first phase of the program was launched in February.  

"It didn't contain any information different than what had already been given to me, that came out of another third-party report," said Foote.

More than 80,000 federal public servants have experienced problems with their pay since the Phoenix system was fully implemented in April. 

Departmental officials say they are on track to clear the backlog of problems by Oct. 31.

So far, 57,500 workers are still waiting to have their pay issues resolved.

A tale of two reports

Neither of the independent reports calls for the Phoenix implementation to be stopped; however, the tone and focus of each report varies. 

Foote was given a briefing on the analysis completed by the firm S.i.Systems. 

The January study concludes Phoenix should move forward, as "the benefits of doing so appear to outweigh the risks. The next phase will be challenging, but it is likely that the problems and difficulties that will be encountered will be manageable."

Throughout the 30-page review, the analysis is quite positive at times, highlighting tasks "that were done extremely well," including an "excellent testing strategy".

But the S.i.Systems report does list several areas of concern, including:

  • Lack of detailed and tested disaster recovery and business continuity plans.
  • The level of on-site technical support provided in Miramichi, N.B., by Shared Services Canada.
  • Uneven appreciation within departmental HR units as to the critical importance of having accurate and up-to-date data in the HR system to drive the pay process.

It also raised questions about the old regional pay system and what might happen after the launch of Phoenix. 

"The review team was told that once accounts are transitioned to the new system they will not be moved back. Thus, the regional pay system is not expected to be utilized once cutover is complete. The team did not see evidence of a fallback or test strategy to mitigate this potentially risky event."

Considerations for delay

The Gartner report casts a different picture of departmental concerns.

When it comes to testing, it predicted there was a moderate possibility that "expectations for accuracy and timeliness of pay may not be met as a result of lack of true end-to-end testing, and system defects that cannot be corrected until the code freeze is lifted."

"Gartner was not provided with a clearly documented testing strategy and plan," the report says.

On training, the consultants write there is a moderate probability that "short timelines to identify and correct gaps in training mean that many training challenges will not be rectified until after go-live."

And while the report says a large number of activities have been completed to prepare for the transition, "most departments expressed uncertainty as to whether the system has been thoroughly tested."

But the report adds, "most also felt it will be substantially correct. Almost all expressed the opinion they are as prepared as possible for the go-live. It was generally felt that a delay would result in many of the preparation activities needing to be performed again."

The report makes a number of risk mitigation suggestions, including:

  • Consider scaling back the number of departments for the initial launch to address the lowest risk departments
  • Either move some departments to the April rollout or consider the addition of a third wave to accommodate an extended transition.
  • Consider parallel operations of Phoenix and [the regional pay system] as a potential contingency approach.

The report's key findings also highlight concerns with unknown factors around testing and support.

"Gartner has identified only one criterion with a high probability of occurring, and a high negative impact, and that is with testing and the implications of outstanding defects, and yet to be identified defects."

"Gartner believes support requests have a high probability of rising post go-live, but the ability of departmental HR staff and the pay centre to deal with these is unknown — there is insufficient information to determine this. The potential adverse impact of the inability to provide support is moderate."

Gartner reviewed 45 Phoenix-related documents for its study, and also interviewed officials within seven different government agencies and departments.

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