Rural Payments Agency in plan to turn around IT woes

The Rural Payments Agency has said it is determined to bring about a better IT setup and much more accurate data, in order to deliver against targets on the EU single payments scheme and turn around some severe technical troubles.

The agency made the announcement in its newly published five-year plan, for 2012 to 2017. These challenges were "by far" its largest issues, the RPA said.

Delivery on the £350 million single payments scheme has so far been problematic, with system issues and data errors leading to farmers being paid late.

The RPA said in its plan that data quality issues had been a major cause of errors over payments to farmers. Data cleansing was now a key focus, and was vital in improving the performance of its IT.

The other factor heightening the importance of data cleansing, it said, is that most of the information will be migrated into new systems used broadly across the common agricultural policy bodies.

The RPA reiterated that its existing IT systems will go out of technical support in early 2014, so it needed to take action quickly.

But it added that in spite of the pressure to act, any steps had to be well thought-out. "We need to ensure that this time round we have successfully developed and implemented the right systems and processes to deliver payments smoothly to our customers before we go live," it said.

It was "critical" not to "make the same mistakes again", the RPA said.

The RPA plans to upgrade its current platform, until the new system is implemented. It said it was considering its options on how to outsource IT or processes, after 2014.

"The challenge for the agency in the next two to three years is to keep the technology running sufficiently to deliver the schemes as our customers expect, until they are replaced, and in practice, many of the annual schemes have to run beyond their nominal year because of external factors, for example, probate cases," it said.

Farming minister Jim Paice said: "The RPA's historical problems have been well-documented, but the Five Year Plan sets out a clear path to deal with that legacy and ensure the RPA provides a high level of service in the future.

"There have been significant improvements in the speed and accuracy of payments over the last year but there's still much more to be done, and we're building solid foundations to prepare for the considerable changes the RPA will face over the next five years."

A spokesperson at Accenture, the IT supplier to the RPA for payments system on the programme, said the system "is fully operational and is meeting its goals and objectives".

In 2010, the agency was heavily criticised in an independent review for its highly flawed and "rushed" farmer subsidies system implementation, which led to incorrect payments being made. Each payment claim was costing £1,700 to process, more than six times the cost of a similar scheme in Scotland.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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