‘Lessons need to be learned’ as cost of new council housing system doubles to more than £1.2 million

Friday, 18 March 2022 19:46

By Jessica Hubbard - Local Democracy Reporter

The overall budget for a project to replace Arun District Council’s housing management system – a task which involves transferring mountains of data – has doubled.

The initial budget to introduce Civica CX software at the council was £600,000. 

But members of ADC’s housing and wellbeing committee approved a further virement for the project on Thursday (March 17). It is hoped the new system will ‘increase efficiency’ by doing away with paperwork and introducing some self-serve options for residents but costs have escalated.

The council’s budget for 2022/23 allowed for a further increase to £1.058 million but further virements bring the total to £1.2 million – more than double the original estimate.

A report before the housing and wellbeing committee says ‘steady progress’ has been made since the project began in July 2021 but issues along the way mean more resources are required.

Home working has proved challenging for the housing service and for the project as the existing system does not offer ‘reliable remote access’.

In addition, day-to-day demands took resources away from the system update on top of a vacancy within the team.

The team were also said to be ‘inexperienced in project work’, according to a report. ‘Data cleansing’ was also identified as a major challenge.

This involves ensuring data is accurate, formatted correctly and not duplicated – a laborious process that often has to be done manually.

It is thought that 80,000 documents and data sets have been ‘cleansed’ since the project started.

Committee chair and deputy council leader Jacky Pendleton (Con, Middleton-on-Sea) said she had concerns about ‘the escalating costs’ but recognised a ‘proven need’ for the new system.

Several councillors including Gill Madeley (Con, Felpham West) and Christopher Hughes (Con, Barnham) also expressed concern at the increasing budget. Mr Hughes said ‘clearly something went awry’ and Alison Cooper (Con, Rustington East) said the council ‘needs to learn some lessons’ from the project.

Despite the setbacks, the ‘on-date’ for the new system remains in November 2022.

Introducing the new system is part of a shake-up within the council’s housing department which has involved staff changes and a new interim head of housing, Moh Hussein.

Mr Hussein, who has experience implementing Civica CX elsewhere, said: “I don’t yet have insight into how the spend has escalated.  “I think it’s important that we do keep the books and the dates under review going forward.”

The interim head said he wanted to focus the team’s energies on ‘getting the system implemented’ to ‘provide the best solution for the people that we serve’, with a ‘lessons learned’ exercise taking place later in the process.

Ms Pendleton added that the initial project budget may not have been sufficient in the first place.

“Perhaps this project is worth £1.2 million,” she said, “We don’t know.”

“We should have assessed that – we knew the state of our system, we knew the age, and so it’s not to do with the system itself, it’s to do with how we assessed it right at the beginning,” she added.

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