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back to article UK gov scraps '£1bn' prisoner tracking system

David Hanson, minister of state at the Ministry of Justice, told the Commons yesterday that the over-budget project to link prison and probation IT systems is being canned. C-NOMIS aimed to provide one system for tracking offenders whether they were in prison or out on probation. The National Offender Management Service (NOMIS) …

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Anonymous Coward

Add a penalty to all future EDS quotes.

In my view every time a project runs over budget, they should add a penalty amount to all future bids from that supplier.

Here's how it would work, suppose EDS gets 1 billion worth of uk.gov business and one of those projects overruns or fails waisting 100 million. Their penalty would be 10% (100/1000), so all future quotes from EDS would have an overrun risk of 10% added to them.

Instead of the cheapest bid, the bid would go to the likely cheapest FINISHED PROJECT, which is what you actually want.

EDS would likely never win another bid, but any company that can't kick out a database app for 39 million doesn't deserve to win another bid.

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Anonymous Coward

How hard is that

So how hard is that, linking three prisons close together, much more fun to link Dartmore, Durham and Belmarsh.

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Stop

It's a start..

It's actually quite nice to see the government can an IT project due to being way over budget. They usually seem to plough ahead anyway.

Now all we need to do is stop them going for these projects (which are guaranteed to go over) in the first place!

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IT Angle

How much?

How much does it cost to post a CDROM from the prison's IT department to the probation's IT department?

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EDS

Yes!

Continuing a long line of screw-ups into 2008.

Now please put the cherry on the icing of the cake by telling me the whole idea was dreamt up by that serial offender - David Blunkett.

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Anonymous Coward

@Penalties

That would also mean that government couldn't change the spec after the project starts - which is something government likes to do.

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Happy

Microsoft to blame!

Well, somebody had to say it...

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Jay
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Tenders?

I don't understand this bidding system where you are allowed to charge considerably more than your bid. Whats the point of putting things out to tender if you then ignore the tender?

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@Jay

as JonB said, govt projects are notorious for changing the rules half way through, hence why bid winners tend to charge more later on. But yeah, they drop the cost to win the project, the govt doesn't seem to use past experience, just low initial bids by 'professionals' who they assume are telling them the right numbers. Learn from mistakes anyway? They've been doing that for years!

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Coat

Time for a change of job!

The UK government and related agencies are horrendous at infrastructure/IT projects.

And I've no idea why things like this can even start to cost so much!

I want to work for a company that handles central government contracts.

I could do with syphoning off some tax-payers money for a new house and a ferrari ;)

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Coat

El Reg forgets Scotland... again!

> The scrapping of NOMIS is yet another broken link in a chain of tech-related screw-ups in the UK's justice process.

For the nth time, there is no "UK justice process". There's one in England & Wales, one in Northern Ireland, and one in Scotland.

Should we all assume that the story refers to the first of these??

My hat and coat are in Scotland, and therefore still in the UK... so I will go and get them...

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EDS need to get out of uk.gov

Has EDS had a successful, on budget, launched project?

They've managed to turn the "Fast, Cheap, Good - pick any two" mantra into "Fast, Cheap, Good - you must be joking we're EDS, at least our quotes are low"

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Stop

Hold your horses

The Government is to blame, no one else.

The Government rushed the requirements gathering and documentation. Suppliers are commercially savvy and take advantage of loose specs and rushed contract negotiations. Read the classic "Rapid Development" by Steve McConnell and most of the pitfalls he mentions will have been seen on the project.

You have the worst of both worlds here. A rushed waterfall approach, with suppliers taking advantage of the situation. Better would be a flexible Joint Application / Iterative Development approach but you have a government staffed with people trained and experienced in formal methods and PRINCE2.

EDS's influence with Ministers is legendary, as noted in every other edition of Private Eye ! Alas, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

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Flame

Doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

I had an interview for the project. It seemed to be some guy had read a book on methodology, and thus preferred experts in the relevant technology, rather than experts at delivering. It was similar to another project I rescued, where there were loads of kids that knew unbelievable amounts about vb6, but had never done a day's big system building.

The whole concept of thinking seems to be sadly lacking these days. Everyone walks around like it's there's some silver bullet. I'm not saying the Gang of Four are stupid because they're rich, but everyone who needs to follow them is. How many people have ever successfully used a Singleton (currently the interviewer's design pattern of choice?) It's just a way of bypassing global variable architectures.

I had another interview a few weeks back, and this guy who was described as a technical architect, seemed to think you should "Do" something to developers who didn't report exceptions back to the user in every case. I said "What happens when the exception is part of the logic? (Such as in trying to open a file read exclusively?)" he then said "Well 99% of cases aren't like that." and I thought ok? Everything asynchronous, everything run redundant or high availability, almost all windows services, most device drivers, and everything with a handshake have non reported fails as normal business behaviour. Unsurprisingly this guy too is directing traffic on government projects.

The final bone of contention is this obsession amongst ordinary project managers about UML. What use is a UML description of boiling the tea, when it's opening the front door you want to achieve? It still comes down to cleverness. You can't mechanise design. It's creative. It's like it's described in Prince 2 somewhere that you've got to have expert coders, expert business analysts (who aren't IT literate,) and expert project managers (who aren't IT literate.) I've not really understood why people prefer business analysts who can't design, or code, or project managers who've never written anything.

I've given up interviewing for technical knowledge, I just ask for all the CVs, to just bypass HR, because they don't have a clue, they think you can train IT staff just like you can train a cleaner, or a plumber.

I bypass IT recruitment using the same technique because all they end up doing is forwarding the CVs that

a. Have the most buzzwords

b. Sound most convincing in the two minute conversation. (I had the following conversation yesterday with an Agent. Her: "It doesn't say you've used ASP.Net recently." Me: "My last contract... IIS, web dev, c#." Her: Where's the ASP.Net in that?" Me: (silently) "Oh god!!!!!"

c. Sum up how many years you've done something, like it's some measure of talent. (I often say these days I've got 11 years of VS 2005. etc.)

Then I just do a combination of Napoleon's theorem, "I don't care if he's good, is he lucky?" i.e. have the projects he's worked on, worked, and testing wise I just exclusively IQ test these days. I reckon 125 is about the minimum anyone needs to be allowed to work on an IT system.

What do you think Baldrick?

I think he looks like a bird who swallowed a plate milord.

No. That's what I think, thinking is so important. What do you think?

I think thinking is so important milord.

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Anonymous Coward

@Penalties

"That would also mean that government couldn't change the spec after the project starts - which is something government likes to do."

Not at all, they would simply have to get a quote for the spec changes first and either accept or reject it.

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Re Tenders

I think you'll find it's people fucking with the plan before it's finished. If you specify the requirements in the contract and then some pen-pusher in whitehall decides he wants it to do his email and calendar as well, you can charge on a kind of time and expenses basis outside the agreed figure. A cynic would say that EDS know that some level z civil servant will add his tuppence to the contract, and hence bid low. In the government you never say no to requests as you'll be fingered out as not being a team player. Plus, all input is equal and must be evaluated as such, no matter how shit the suggestion.

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Tenders (@Jay)

It's almost impossible for any large organization (whether commercial or part of government) to identify precise requirements for a period of many years (the typical span of an outsourcing contract). The day after TUPE, all of your former staff are put on a course telling them how to say 'no' to any requests from their former organization. I'mSorryThatIsn'tCoveredByTheContract becomes a single word - and any work not covered by the contract will be chargeable at our (outrageous) daily rate.

If you could specify with absolute precision precisely what would be required of the outsourcing operation and never make any changes, outsourcing could be financially attractive (in that case, of course, so would carrying out the activity in-house).

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@AC

"but you have a government staffed with people trained and experienced in formal methods and PRINCE2."

I'm afraid I have to correct that to :

but you have a government staffed with people who [ once read a website about ] formal methods and PRINCE2 [ and now think they are experts in the field ]

Although in all fairness, the outcome is more or less the same.

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Pay the agreed price

Why can't the Govt. just pay the price they agreed on? Any over spend is picked up by the contractor.

The bidding process looks flawed to me. Seems they put in silly low bid, then increase it later and the Govt. generally pays. The Govt. needs to get strict and stop giving in!

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Anonymous Coward

I can do that!

This is a simple POB (People on board system). Only they are either in prison or on probation. The oil industry has one of these for all personnel who travel offshore in the UK waters.

Let me write one for $200m saving on the original $900m and then let me keep the change.... :-)))

It will be secure, web enabled and accessable from any PC with an internet connection.

Why does the government always allow the big consultancy firms blow simple database projects into multi-million projects that never deliver, but go all the way to the finish before being canned?

Let's get some more dynamic development houses into government contracts who will do it cheaper faster better, and will work.

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Stop

What a bloody waste!

They should have spent a million or two on locking a team of database designers and coders in a room (metaphorically speaking) for a year and got the jon done in that timeframe.

How in the name of god do you spend nearly a billion on a database?!

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@Andrew Smith

> Why can't the Govt. just pay the price they agreed on? Any over spend is picked up by the contractor.

That's probably the worst thing they can do, if you've ever been involved in a project that must be delivered on a certain date and must stick to budget, you would see what a pile of toss goes into the code to get it done. You end up dropping functionality/maintainability/stability all to keep to budget/release and deal with all of the scope creep, misunderstandings or strange business decisions. (I like it, but can you make it a different colour? It clashes with our new office design scheme).

Maybe my view is one sided, because we have to maintain the code we deliver, but some of the things i have to deal with because somebody decided to do it quickly and cheaply a couple of years ago are horrendous.

you'd be amazed how many people forget maintenance in their requirements, or just pay it lip service. I've even seen people brush off serious concerns ('but are you sure you want that, you'll have to manually check and key more than 7million prices every month? Oh its no problem, we'll just get a temp in to do it - 2 weeks after delivery they're wondering why all the prices are wrong and how soon can we have it 'fixed')

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Boffin

@ Andy S

"you'd be amazed how many people forget maintenance in their requirements..."

That's the fault of the systems analyst drawing up the CNA, not the client. It's the analyst's job to factor in ongoing maintenance requirements as an inherent part (and cost) of the project. If the client brushes off a major maintenance requirement (like manually keying 7 million data items monthly!), that should be a big red flag to any analyst that there WILL be serious problems down the line, and design the maintenance requirement into the project scope regardless of whether the client says they need it or not. The client's job is merely to inform the analyst of what all the data flows and processes are within their system. It's the analyst's job to design a NEW system to optimise and manage these data flows and processes. Otherwise why employ him, since the client already HAS a system in place, broken or not?

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I just don't get it...

I worked for the local Police's IT department as a contractore for a few (8) years. We implemented a system between the Justice Department and the Police's Corporate System to keep track of "parole violations" (to use US-speak). In other words we got a daily file via secure-FTP of people being released on CBOs (community-based orders) and we matched them with Persons in the Corp System (or added them if we could not find a match). If this person was then pulled in for any reason (ie, a new "we have interracted with them" entry), the system sent a heads-up to the Justice Department with details of the Person (and the officer's contact details) so the case-worker could follow up on it to see if a Breach had occured.

Less than 6 month's work for a handful (literally) of people, delivered on time and on budget, and we got an award for it (not bad for a contractor). What's so hard about this? Oh, yeah, that's right: it was done in-house with contractors, as opposed to fully outsourced (never saw an outsourced project complete successfully).

As for tenders, I was involved in one that ran so smoothly we went from 10 pieces of (expensive) approved hardware to 15 before the tender even finalised, and another 5 approved by the time the first HW was up and running. It's not that hard people, so long as you keep the bean-counters away until the last moment and so long as you fight any scope-creep with all the strength you can muster.

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Anonymous Coward

A Certain Texan Company - Pin Back Your Lugholes

I worked for a subcontractor of A Certain Texan Company a few years ago. It was a large Government contract. A Certain Texan Company had told the gov that it wasn't possible to migrate existing data into the new system and it would all have to be put in manually. So I piped up with

"That's not strictly true - I could write a routine to do it fairly easily" boss kicked me under the table and made it plain he wanted me to be quiet.

After the meeting boss asked me if I could really do it and how long would it take. I said a few days as long as I could have X working with me. So he gave me the go ahead and me and X cracked on coding. We completed and tested the system in the first week and boss showed to A Certain Texan Company . A Certain Texan Company loved it and bought it off our company for 35k.

We were well paid contractors and we'd been paid 10k between us for two weeks work so the markup was fair enough.

Then, a couple of weeks later I was in a meeting with us,A Certain Texan Company and the Gov. A Certain Texan Company goons made flash presentation of our software and then said:

"We know we said that the data couldn't be migrated but we've had a team of programmers in Texas working on this for three months and they've cracked it. So we're going to give to you at cost -insert huge number here"

Gov bought it. I resigned.

Cheers

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Stop

It isn't just EDS, and

I've worked exclusively on government contracts for the last five years and yes, I'm sorry, but the IT supplier, be it EDS, Capgemini, LogicaCMG or (add further IT supplier of your choice) are usually not solely to blame. Sometimes they are not to blame at all.

Issue number one: Civil servants hate being tied down to decisions, because then somebody can point to it later and say "you got it wrong". So any system being commissioned by government suffers from the stakeholders not being willing to take decisions of any significance. You can get them to say "no" to any number of options, but getting them to say "yes" and then confirm that in writing.... is very, very difficult.

Issue number two: Price is king, and a promise of early delivery helps the win. The lowest bid tends to be the winning bid in government contracts, so IT suppliers pare back their costings as much as they can before they put bids in. So, on day one of the project, the PM has very little contingency in terms of time and money, so when the unexpected does happen, the project gets delayed. I've seen it so often it makes me spit. Stupid, stupid project plans built on prayers that everything works first time (strangely, despite minimising the budget for testing). So most projects will over-run because they were under-priced and had unrealistically short timescales. Many projects are crucified by this and what should be a straightforward systems implementation turns into a fiasco because short cuts are taken all the way down the line to (a) try to meet the unrealistic delivery date and (b) stay within the "tighter than a gnat's chuff" budget.

Issue number three: Yes, now that IT suppliers are finally cottoning on to issue one, they are drawing up contracts that reflect this. You can't blame them for this because they are simply doing what they need to so that they remain in business.

We need to change the tendering process. Once the government has shortlisted three suppliers, it should commission two others to produce 'benchmark' bids. Because you know you're not bidding to win, you produce a plan with all the usual safeties built in properly, come up with a sensible delivery date and a realistic cost. Average the two baseline bids in terms of cost and timescale, and then rate the shortlisted bids against them. How realistic is the timescale? How realistic is the cost?

We need to get away from driving down price, it's like the Tesco economy range of foods - it will do what it says but it isn't necessarily good for you...

BTW EDS withdrew from the NHS IT Contract race as did other suppliers. And Capgemini isn;t exactly covering itself in glory at HMRC...

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Pirate

So the government have admitted....

they can't do the prison population

and they still insist on the Id scheme???

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Anonymous Coward

Offshore POB

They should of went for the offshore POB system its got a proven track record and wouldn't of taken that much to modify a version to their needs...."I would guess". Could probably be done for less than EDS wanted.

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Alert

remind me again someone...

... why is it that I abide by the law?

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