The Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) was established as an executive agency of the Northern Ireland Office in 1995. It is responsible for the custody of more 1,100 inmates in three prisons and one juvenile detention centre. It employs 1,600 prison officers and 600 administraters. Many of the admin staff are based at its headquarters in Belfast.
In 1997, an internal report recommended that the organisation integrate its HR and payroll systems. At the time the service was running three payroll software systems, two HR administration software systems, a training system, a rostering system and a sickness monitoring system.
Gareth Herron was recruited in 1998 to lead the project, entitled Compass, which would integrate all of these systems into one. He explains why this had to be done: "We just weren't able to get a complete picture of our workforce. Given the nature of our work, it's vital that we maintain proper staffing levels and this was difficult to do if we didn't know how many staff were in post at any one time."
Herron and his team conducted a 10-month tendering process, whittling a shortlist of 13 down to three.
"There were two Oracle products and one from SAP. We needed the system to retrospectively apply pay awards, and I was more convinced that the SAP product could do this."
The SAP supplier, Pecaso, had also impressed him. "It had a lot of experience implementing HR systems in the public sector. The other two vendors claimed to have this experience, but when we probed a little deeper we discovered it was only individual members of staff who had done it at other companies."
The contract was awarded in October 2000 and the project began in January 2001. In March 2002, the new integrated system went live for prison officers and one year later it was introduced for civil servants. Herron reports that, technically, the software implementation and data migration was straightforward.
The greatest challenge he encountered during the project was the organisational change. "In the past we had worked in silos, with one person entering data about a new recruit, then another entering the data about that individual's pay, then another doing it for equal opportunities, and so on.
"The new system meant that one person would enter all the data for one employee. This revolutionised the way we work