Vic Auditor fails Ultranet $180m e-learning disaster

By Julian Bajkowski

A student management and learning system that was supposed to provide cutting edge capability to Victorian schools has been marked an unequivocal fail by the state’s Auditor General in an official review which “detected a number of serious process and probity issues in relation to tendering and procurement” for the massive project.

Known as “Ultranet,” the six-year-old Oracle based project has cost taxpayers at least an estimated $162 million but still cannot provide educators or students with the functionality or outcomes it was supposed to deliver.

Mired in controversy from the outset over the way the initial tender process was conducted, and how Oracle was selected, the audit findings question how the project was able to proceed for so long and deliver so little.

“The project continued despite advice from central agencies that it should cease or be delayed. Further, there is no trail of documentary evidence to explain whether or how DEECD addressed the many critical issues raised by [the Department of Premier and Cabinet] and [the Department of Treasury and Finance],” the Audit report said.

“It is difficult to understand why the Ultranet procurement was able to proceed to contract execution, given the significant concerns raised by DPC and DTF, as well as the many adverse ratings that DEECD had received from various Gateway reviews since the project first commenced.”

The Audit report has also slammed the project as “poorly planned and implemented” and found that “none of its three business cases had a well thought out needs analysis or gave considered options to deliver the project.”

Specifically, it said that six years after the project was announced as “a government priority” Ultranet has still not delivered on its main objectives which were:

• to improve responsiveness to individual learning needs

• to provide better information to parents, the school system and government

• to improve the efficiency of the learning environment and school administration.

The Audit has similarly questioned whether the full cost of the project has been revealed.

“There is little confidence that the financial management practices relating to the Ultranet were sound and that full costs have been adequately recorded,” the audit report said, adding that DEECD is now “investigating the financial practices in relation to this major ICT project.”

Aside from the questions of procurement probity, expensive and capability failure, the Ultranet project has also proved to be an unmitigated flop with users.

“Use of the Ultranet is low, and declining. On average, only 10 per cent of students and 27 per cent of teachers logged in on a monthly basis from July 2011 to May 2012,” the audit report said.

So serious is the failure of the project that Auditor has flagged potential legal action and recommended that Victoria “urgently review its investment in the Ultranet, with a particular focus on…assessing whether the contractor has delivered all functionality as required by the contract and what action, if any, needs to be taken to enforce the state’s rights.”

The Auditor has also recommended that DEECD “conduct an agency-wide review of its internal tendering, probity and financial management practices in light of the serious issues identified by this audit.”

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