EQC enquiry: Outdated, incompatible technology key to persisting failures

EQC enquiry: Outdated, incompatible technology key to persisting failures

Staff say system changes were like 'flying the plane whilst still building it'

Dame Sylvia Cartwright

Dame Sylvia Cartwright

Credit: Governor-General

Dame Sylvia Cartwright's long-awaited report into the Earthquake Commission's stuttering response to the 2010/11 Christchurch earthquakes has dropped, laying bare the insurer's technology failures.

Worse, some of those failures persist even after a $1.8 million upgrade to a new version of EQC's claims management system.

Dissatisfaction with EQC’s data and information collection, storage and sharing practices were some of the most common matters Cartwright heard about, not only from claimants and advocates but also from current and former EQC staff, contractors working on managed repairs and private insurers.

"Comments centred on the outdated or incompatible technology and systems, poor data handling practices, EQC’s difficulties in accessing the data it needs to perform its functions and the challenges claimants faced accessing information about their properties," Cartwright wrote.

EQC had established a computerised system for managing claims, which initially attempted an ultimately unsuccessful collaboration with private insurers in Australia and New Zealand. 

The Commission used a number of information systems since the late 1990s and upgrades in ensuing years sought to keep up with rapidly changing technology. 

A 2005 strategic review of its information systems noted EQC's increasing dependence on technology for handling claims, investment and administration.

It emphasised that its Integrated Systems Strategic Plan, produced some years earlier, was found to be inadequate because it resulted in a divergence of programmes that significantly limited its usefulness.

EQC undertook “near-constant upgrades of technology and infrastructure”, the report said. 

At the time of the Canterbury earthquakes, it had introduced a system for managing claims, Guidewire's ClaimCenter, which was customised to store and handle data for between 150,000 and 200,000 claims.

EQC was on the cusp of migrating from version 4 to an enhanced version 6 of ClaimCenter when the September 2010 earthquake occurred. 

EQC’s data and information systems and processes were put under huge pressure by the volume of claims. 

In March 2011 the decision to upgrade the system was revoked in order to focus on the immediate issues. 

"The decision to delay the upgrade was pragmatic, but it did demand changes to version 4 to try to improve functionality and increase capability," Cartwright wrote. 

"I understand this caused frustration for some staff, who were well aware of ClaimCenter 4’s shortcomings and described the changes being made in an environment of 'flying the plane whilst still building it'.

As reported in Reseller News, it wasn't until 2017 that EQC finally began to retire version 4, jumping to version 8.

"Although EQC began a process of upgrading its systems immediately after the September 2010 earthquake, appointing a large technology team and a chief information officer and working closely with IBM developers based in-house, it continued to struggle with meeting the new challenges of project management and ensuring access to data for the Canterbury Home Repair Programme teams, increased EQC staff and office sites," the report said.

Soon after the February 2011 earthquake, large numbers of additional staff needed access to the system and administrative functions such as email addresses required set-up. 

A flood of paper-based assessments data required manual entry, which caused delays and errors.

EQC acknowledged that its failure to ensure integration among its differing systems became a major issue from 2011. 

"The systems proved inadequate, leading to a multitude of problems as EQC moved into the handling of a major event," Cartwright reported.

"A lack of sufficient focus by EQC’s leadership on improving its data management systems by implementing planned (compared with ad hoc) system upgrades and innovations was apparent."

This left EQC ill-equipped to manage the onslaught of claims-related information it had to deal with."

The shift to ClaimCenter version 8 brought further challenges.

Read more on the next page...

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