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Concerns raised over census IT system

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  Census 2018 general manager Denise McGregor is confident in her IT systems. Census 2018 general manager Denise McGregor is confident in her IT systems. Photo: David Williams

Dec 18, 2017  -  The boss of New Zealand’s census is confident Stats NZ's IT system is up to the job. But internal emails from October paint a shambolic picture of the $121 million project, with contractors pulled in to fix bugs in a key system, delays to crucial testing and blown budgets for individual projects. David Williams reports.

On October 20, a day after Winston Peters announced New Zealand First would form a government with Labour, the head of New Zealand’s 2018 census, Denise McGregor, emailed her staff the management team’s newly drafted list of cultural principles.

“We are one team, not a series of projects,” was the first of 11 principles inspired by a speech from legendary rugby sevens coach Gordon Tietjens. Others included “when things go wrong we collectively fix without blame”, “share the load” and “escalate early”. In a sign of the sweat being expended on Stats NZ’s momentous project, the bigwigs vowed to lead by example by having time off to “ensure we are fit for the job” and “getting out” at lunchtime.

Optimism turned to grim realism, however, in the “IT update” section of McGregor’s email, which focused on the crucial Salesforce system, used to manage field staff work. “The Salesforce issue continues to provide challenges for resolution and is impacting the delivery of the overall programme,” McGregor’s email said. “There are a number of priority one work packages blocked from completion, and a backlog of testing is starting to build.”

Salesforce testing had improved, she said. The full file of 2.1 million records – all street addresses in New Zealand – had loaded and “a number” of errors were being investigated.

Lurching from success to doom

Two hours later, McGregor wrote an unvarnished assessment to Stats NZ deputy chief executive Teresa Dickinson. The “good news”, she said via email, was that 2 million records loaded. However, 103,000 records failed and performance issues

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