Post Office is urged to act over IT concerns

Your local sub post office ­ – heart of the community, essential service,
potential bank and now focal point for accountancy controversy.

The controversy emerged last week when it was reported that up to 30 sub
postmasters had come forward with complaints about the accountancy system used
by the Post Office which, they claim, had produced discrepancies for six sub
postmasters, concluding they owed more than £430,000 collectively.

Focus has now turned to Horizon, the accounting system used by the Post
Office. The claims are that the system was faulty, showing takings for the
branches as higher than they actually were.

IT professionals have been watching the news closely and discussion has
focused on whether the Post Office has undertaken an IT audit, and whether the
software provider is becoming embroiled in the row between local sub post
masters and their employer.

The Post Office has issued denials but experts believe it needs to know
exactly what
is going on, even if the software systems are not to blame.

Richard Anning, head of the ICAEW IT faculty, said: “You need to make sure
that your accounting system is bullet proof.”

He added: “Whether they have an IT audit or not, they need to understand what
was happening.”

The interest in the accounting systems is given extra urgency because of
Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s announcement last week that the Post Office would
return to offering banking services as a means of building more competition in
the market.

Industry experts believe that alone should press the Post Office into some
form of action.

David Turner, group marketing director at accounting software company Coda,
believes whether or not these accusations are true the reputational damage is
potentially disastrous.

“With an organisation as big as the Post Office, it is important to everyone
that they have confidence in their IT systems ­ especially if they are taking on
banking systems,” he said.

He added that it is vital the Post Office does “something” to “dispel” any
rumours of faults because reputation is critical when it comes to accounting.

However, the Post Office may not be alone in its responsibility, claims Mark
Thompson, managing director of accountancy software company COA solutions.

“A supplier can’t walk away from responsibility,” he says.

The integration and maintenance of a company’s technology systems is a
“partnership” he says, adding that both sides need to work on dealing with
discrepancies within an IT system, especially if it was bespoke built.

Horizon had not returned calls from Accountancy Age by the time of
going to
press and the Post Office declined to comment when asked if it would undertake

an IT audit.

However, the Post Office has issued a more general statement, saying: “Our
Horizon IT system, which operates across the Post Office network, is extremely
robust and successfully records millions of transactions each day and there is
no evidence pointing to any fault with the technology.”

“We are completely confident our system is capable of handling the financial

services transactions carried out at Post Office branches and will support any
services that we plan to introduce in the future.”


The Post Office should consider an IT audit to show it has taken the
matter seriously.Although it may be small sums of money involved, perception is
everything and it could not consider going back into bank services with an
accounting system that had doubts attached to it.

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