Nasty e-mail shows unhappiness with new UP website

UP website. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
UP website. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Pretoria - Internal e-mails at the University of Pretoria (UP) have revealed the unhappiness with the development of a new website.

The “go-live” date for the new website was previously postponed owing to technical difficulties and alleged “unresolved” issues.

According to UP, an open tender process was followed according to the University's procurement policy and awarded to iGroup.

A source revealed through copies of internal e-mails, that UP staff are dissatisfied and some feel pressured within their employment positions to personally try to fix errors, while loading content or trying to navigate the website, which is currently incomplete.

An extract from an e-mail (provided by a source) reflecting complaints from UP staff members to UP management read: “We were informed that the migration would be almost effortless if we ensured that our websites were up to date by the time of migration."  

Transparent process

"Louise and I certainly spent hours ensuring that this was the case with the Faculty of Law.  So yes, we had certain expectations based on the promises of the two contenders that we briefed.  As far as I know the external company had months from migration (since May) to handing over to UP to sort out the major, more than obvious issues, the e-mail continues.  

"There was no need for them to test all sites - they could have taken one faculty and worked through it - as the migration errors, in most instances, affect all faculties' websites. This is not 'minor fixing'.  

"This is major fixing, which is clearly a direct result of erroneous migration programming and overall incompetent migration process on the side of iGroup.  I cannot fathom why, when the initial errors were picked up, the contractor was not instructed to fix and redo the migration to the satisfaction of UP…”

Managing director of iGroup Create, Andrew Flinders said that UP pays for hosting the website and argued that the company won the tender in a transparent process.

"No staff members of iGroup resigned due to challenges with the system, or as a result of 'unrealistic deliverables'. iGroup restructured and a handful of staff members were retrenched as a result of general strategic operational requirements."

Two contracts were signed with iGroup in 2013, as well as the project plan and payment schedule. The University's legal services were involved in drawing up the contracts (Master Customer Relationship agreement and the Hosting Services Terms and Conditions). According to the payment schedule the University had to pay a deposit in 2013 for the development of the total base system, customisations and extensions," said Dr Karen Lazenby, Director of the University of Pretoria.

Reports indicate that the new website cost R2.8m, plus an additional R200 000 per month in hosting fess.

In 2011, the Free State Provincial Government was embroiled in a scandal over the developed of a website for R140m. The government rejected the costs reported widely in the media, instead insisting that it had paid R40m for the website.

However, despite this, many still balked at the amount for a website many industry professionals regarded as worth less than R40 000. Websites for financial institutions which protect customer financial information cost in the R12m to R15m range.

The Free State government website still has issues of dead links, including the Feedback page which results in a "Page not found" error message.

Dr Lazenby added that the University website contains “more than 450 mini websites, which created challenges for the content migration owing to the scope and complexity of the project”.

Flinders rejected the notion that iGroup was involved in any impropriety in the development of the website and made no bones about the company's position.

"You will realise that the unfounded allegations made in your e-mail have the potential to cause damage to the iGroup and our right to recover damages which we may suffer, should you proceed to publish these unfounded allegations, are reserved."

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