The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) says computer system limitations have led to the failure of a national water information program to meet expectations.
In its audit of the program, the ANAO said that a $10 million National Plan for Water Security, including a $480 million investment to improve water information, was announced in January 2007.
The Bureau of Meteorology was given responsibility for the administration of the Improving Water Information Program.
Auditor-General, Ian McPhee said the Bureau introduced a range of new products and services. These included annual national water accounts, water resources assessments, tracking of water storages and seasonal stream-flow forecasts.
“The Bureau has developed effective arrangements for collaborating with water data providers that supply much of this data,” Mr McPhee said.
“The Modernisation and Extension of Hydrologic Monitoring Systems Program (M&E Program) delivered financial assistance to eligible data providers to assist them in modernising and extending their hydrologic monitoring networks.”
The audit found that the Bureau had effectively administered the M&E Program, with funded activities collectively contributing to improved accuracy and quality of water data and better equipping policy‑makers to manage Australia’s water resources.
Bureau’s weak point
“While stakeholders generally viewed the program and the effectiveness of the Bureau’s implementation positively, there has been a gap between the expectations of users and the range and completeness of the Bureau’s products and services currently provided,” Mr McPhee said.
“Stakeholders are seeking increased coverage and better quality products and services, including data downloads, so that they can address their own specific product and service needs. Services, such as data downloads, were included as a priority in the Bureau’s 2008 strategic plan for improving water information, but have yet to be fully delivered.”
The Audit said that closer consultation with key Agencies through established forums (such as the Jurisdictional Reference Group on Water Information) would further assist in managing expectations.
“A key constraint on the effectiveness of the program’s implementation and the capacity of the Bureau to meet expectations has been the limited functionality available through the system designed to manage national water data - the Australian Water Resources Information System (AWRIS),” Mr McPhee found.
''The functionality of AWRIS is severely limited and this has constrained the range and timely development and release of new products and services.”
The Audit stated that overall, the development of AWRIS was characterised by technical and governance shortcomings, changes in design and approach, unanticipated cost increases and delays.
“As a consequence, the Bureau has not achieved its vision for AWRIS as a reliable, national repository for water information. Further, the level of expenditure has not been proportional with the level of functionality obtained, with the Bureau expending $38.5 million on AWRIS and associated systems and applications as at 30 June 2013,” the Mr McPhee said.
“The issues encountered by the Bureau in this information technology implementation emphasise the importance of Agencies understanding their business environment and the likely operational risks and challenges they will be facing when developing new systems.”
In its recommendations the Audit stated the Bureau should develop relevant, reliable and complete key performance indicators and report against these indicators on the extent to which the program’s outcomes were being achieved.
It recommended the Bureau strengthen strategic IT planning and project management to guide the delivery of IT projects, inform monitoring activities and implement governance arrangements for all IT projects that were commensurate with the documented risk profile of each project.
The Bureau of Meteorology agreed to all recommendations.