After the RMIT fiasco, in which the Victorian university blew about $60 million developing a student administration system, when a perfectly good Australian developed system could have been installed for a less than 10% of the cost, you would think that the Vic Government would have learned its lesson. Apparently not.
What SEW is embarking on is sheer adventurism and, if it was a public company, it would be brought to account by its shareholders. SEW is not in the business of software development - it is a water utility. However, it seems to fancy itself as a player in the software business. We are given to understand that when Barwon Water was looking for a new field services system a couple of years ago, SEW tried to flog them its own ageing, proprietary and very limited Water Log system.
Now SEW intends to spend millions to develop another proprietary software system. The rationale behind this is perplexing. If SEW believes that it will be able to offset the additional cost and risk of developing a bespoke in-house system by later on-selling it to other water utilities thorughout the world, then it is living in a fantasy land. The global market is crowded with a huge number of proven field services management systems, including some excellent Australian ones.
If SEW believes it is going to gain some strategic advantage over its fellow water retailers by going a different route, then its attitude is perplexing. The water retailers are Government-owned and should be working together - not at cross purposes.
Aside from the SEW board, which should be brought to account for this ridiculous decision, the Victorian Government should also be held accountable. The Government has insisted that the SEW decision rests with the board, which it says is independent. This is sheer nonsense. The board is appointed by the Government.
Finally, there is the issue of jobs. Infosys will argue that it employs 500 local ICT workers in Victoria and that this project will create jobs. This is true to a certain extent. However, the fact of the matter is that much of the work will involve teaching visiting expatriates from the company's Indian office so that they can return to India and work on the software development for the project. This is the way the offshoring cost model works.
Regardless of whether you believe in offshoring as a strategic method of software development, however, it does not apply in the case of SEW. This is because what SEW is doing is attempting to justify reinventing the wheel by using outsourced offshore labour. One has to wonder how the people who make these sorts of decisions get to positions of power. Needless to say, we will watch the ongoing development of this system at SEW with great interest - including reports from from the Victorian Auditor General.