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back to article Brit cops blow £14m on software - then just flush it down the bogs

Surrey Police has pulled the plug on a multi-million-pound computer system it spent years developing. Way back in 2005, the force began overhauling its criminal intelligence setup. Since then it has spent £14.8m developing gear called the Surrey Integrated Reporting Enterprise Network (Siren). It is unclear how much of this dosh …

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Facepalm

"Police spin doctors refused to give El Reg a copy of this report, which appeared to be the catalyst for the scrapping of the system" - you _have_ heard of FOI requests, right?

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: countd

Tch-och. We have put in an FOI, but it can take ages (well, about a month) for a response to come back. So, here's the story for you now.

C.

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Meh

Predictable outcome..

Give money to a public service to spend on IT=Fail

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Re: countd

Fair enough :)

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Devil

Why are these public sector idiots allowed...

to spend vast sums of public (i.e. yours & mine) money, scrap it thus achieving bugger all, and then continue to spend loads more elsewhere - and all without any form of responsibility, culpability or facing the consequences.

Try that in the private sector (The REAL world) and you'd be rapidly fired - or at least your remains would be since you would have been totally eviscerated by that stage.

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Re: Try that in the private sector (The REAL world)

So the banking sector isn't part of the public sector? Or are you just not aware of the massive rewards for failure in that industry? A good example in the news today about the public money that bailed out HBOS and was then given in bonuses to the men who fucked it up....

What you mean is that in the private sector (The REAL world) some poor pleb would've been forced to take the rap and fired while his manager got another bonus.

(alternatively, my grossly simplified version of the REAL world is better than your grossly simplified version of the REAL world...)

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Stop

Re: Why are these public sector idiots allowed...

Forget the headline and work it out. Since 2005, they've spent £14m. That's £1.75m a year. Say this is in-house developed tech - a lot of the costs are in development personnel, lets say £40k/person for public sector IT, which would cost the force ~£50k once you take into account EE NI. Lets assume a team of 20 developers - that's £1m/year. There were probably external costs - equipment, training, auditing, the 'independent report' which led to it's binning.

Now, the report says that they spent £14m and threw it away. That's probably not accurate. They built and maintained the system for 8 years, for which it 'worked' to a certain extent. At some point, they looked at this 8 year project, looked at what their needs for the next few years are, and estimated how much work it would be to get it to a state that they now need.

Obviously, having done this analysis, they decided that it was more cost effective to ditch it and start again, and even more cost effective to ditch it, and buy a solution rather than implement it in house.

Who hasn't had to do this at work? That PoS VB application that your predecessor poured his time in to, but still doesn't bloody do the job - do you fix it, or bin it? Do you reimplement it yourself, or is there COTS solutions available now that didn't exist back then?

This is not necessarily black and white.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why are these public sector idiots allowed...

Assuming they needed staff that could actually deliver anything and had even a basic level of competency then undoubtedly they would have used contractors which would have burnt through the cash a bit faster...

No one with any degree of skills works for the public sector in permanent positions in my extensive experience....If they had any talent whatsoever then they would be getting paid more in the real world.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why are these public sector idiots allowed...

(With the possible exception of those who's personality defects significantly outweigh their IT skills.....who seem attracted to the public sector like flies to shit)

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Anonymous Coward

In the real world...

Such utter balls ups are swept under the carpet in the private sector. Success is redefined to such a warped degree that wasting over £100M on a project that never delivered didn't cost the head of IT his job. He earned the subriquet "Teflon" because everything he touched turned to shite, but it never stuck to him...

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Bloody tax pays alliance.

Never at a loss for a cheap soundbite.

So the question in my mind is - at the time that the system was originally commissioned (2005) did the systems these other forces use already exist in a workable form. If so, yes Surrey deserves a drubbing. If they didn't exist and if Surrey got reasonable use from its inhouse system (years in development, but how many years? Have they been using it since 2007 and spending on improvements since then?) I have sympathy for them.

Would an FOI request get you that report?

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Re: Bloody public sector wasting my f***ing money. As usual.

Go check your facts. The build of the system wasn't "commissioned in 2005", that's the date the project was dreamt up. It was 2009 before they commissioned Memex to build the system, and as far as I can see from wider press reporting it was never operational.

So no, not good value, nor deserving of sympathy.

Moreover, Surrey plods are also reported to have wasted tens of thousands on consultancy fees for a botched attempt to outsource the back office support (and we all know where that goes). Now, maybe they've learned their lesson, but I think there's a big clue that they haven't, in that they have commissioned Grant Thornton to investigate the SIREN debacle. As a repeat offender, it seems unlikely lessons will be learned, and therefore paying GT to come in and tell them they've fucked up is merely throwing good monet after bad.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bloody public sector wasting my f***ing money. As usual.

Hmm. Memex you say ? Checking criminal intelligence reports suggest they have priors in the police service.

Not heard about them in a while all the same. Perhaps some good old investigation and detective work is in order ? Are El Reg up to the job ?

The Anon mask seems pretty fitting here.

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To be fair

2 million a year is actually peanuts for Public Service IT projects. Just be grateful the plug was pulled before it hits the 'tens of millions per year and not yet working' levels of the NHS

and a Chris 3 says, they may have had some very good use of the system in the time it has been around, if that is the case it was seriously cheap. By current standards would 7-8 years count as a generation for that type of system?

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Mushroom

Is this man for real

“I hope you can appreciate that a full inquiry into a project of this scale is likely to take some time and that it would not be proper for me to comment further at this stage.”

So, lets see. We have a report, but you can't see it. I have now made a decision, but we need a second inquiry to show that his decision was justified. You couldn't make this up.

And they wonder why people call them wooden tops?

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Meh

Someone's playing the man not the ball.

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Pay it back

So presumably the force will have to pay it back to the tax payer by having a budget reduction for the equivalent amount put in place? No? Then there's no incentive to stop public agencies doing this sort of thing time and time again.

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Re: Pay it back

Some years ago as a French resident I called Surrey police to a Motorway road works on the M25. Basically I did this at the behest of the Highways agency.

Now a certain police officer turned up (Ex RHA, also known as the cowboys), sided with the road works people that had told me to Fcuk off. I suggested to him that if I did not then it was a case of fcuk if I did and also if I did not. He told me I was illegally parked, (not so I was inside the road working area), That there were other things as well.

Oh dear said police had to formally apologise to me, the road closure was illegal, the police officer did not know traffic law etc all forced on them by the Highways Agency who also wanted to know why the police had sanctioned an illegal road closure, illegal signs, unlawful behaviour, swearing at members of the public to name a few. I suggested that the "officer" and I do use the term loosely go on a man management course, also to go on the local schools cycle profficiency course to learn the highway code and retake part 1 of the driving test, the written bit!

So after that they let them loose on computers, are they mad. They have trouble with basic motorway rules, how the fcuk are they going to cope with the electronic highway!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pay it back

I was stopped on a dual carriageway near Dorking, Surrey by a plod who did not know the highway code and hid his identity.

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Anonymous Coward

Place your bets

Surrey had an existing system that didn't do everything they wanted.

They were given options of other systems that they could use that did most of what they wanted, but not quite everything, and each of those systems would cost a fair bit to license.

So what do they do? They make a system (or try to) that does everything they want / need it to do and more. As they progress through the project, the scope grows, new costs are found and the price of development goes up and up (to 12 million or whatever it was) and it's still no closer to a completion date (ever slipping goalposts eventually slip out of view)

New guy comes in, reviews the system and why it was being implemented, and then reviews the target date which is now far off in the horizon and another 10mil away. Points out that, since looking back in 2005 several of the software solutions they turned down had implemented the features they wanted and would be cheaper to license than building their own system.

15mil wasted, but had they kept going it could easily have gone up to 30mil

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Re: Place your bets

I'm not sure in this case, I have seen cases where just paying for the license up front is the cheap way to do it... but it is not always the case. Sometimes a vendor just won't, or cannot provide what you want.

I have a friend who had worked in the oil industry for years. One of the biggest complaints he heard from his customers was how poor the tract management software was for making earnings statements to customers. He asked the company providing the software how much they'd have to pay to get the features they want. Answer: Not going to happen, ever, for any price.

He and two other programmers got together and wrote a web based app that does what the customers want. They built it modular, because it's still a work in progress, if customers want new features they are easy to add. They built it with a consistent internal API, so it can interface with other datasources easily in the future. They use agile development methods, development happens quickly and new feature to rollout times are short. And the program isn't Windows only anymore (on the customers side), it will run in any modern web browser.

I think these big firms doing government contracts are doomed to fail on the projects for a few reason too. Too much complexity, trying to tie in to different legacy systems with varying levels of support. Too large of development teams of substandard coders. Too long of release cycles, features people need now get added in with more complicated features that need longer test cycles, which end up being delayed because of bugs, which end up also testing with other code from other teams trying to get stuff done, which ends up causing other bugs, ad infinitum. By the time the code makes it to the user requirements have changed or additional systems need tied in starting the failure chain all over again.

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FAIL

Re: Place your bets

Too many managers, not enough experienced and capable software engineers?

//Mythical Man-Month should be required reading for all

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Given the usual way these things go, AC @ 13:23 got it almost right.

Exiting system doesn't work well enough

New System "designed" without bothering to call in external experts and is then turned into a working order without being audited. Contractors _know_ it won't work as designed but do it anyway, on time and under budget - it doesn't work

Cue "goalposts start shifting". Contractors are now charging hourly rates for rework, even though the underlaying framework probably means it will never work, no matter how much it's bodged. That doesn't matter. It's not their design nor their responsibility.

Criticisms are met with denials, threats and coverups. Eventually someone new comes in, realises that there are egos involved and managed to get it killed. Unfirtunately there are still egos involved and someone else's flawed design is being pushed hard, plus the report on the existing system is so damning that releasing it unedited will result in people being sacked or expose "mates" connections.

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Paris Hilton

Paris Brown, teen police commissioner

A story that actually has a Paris angle to it!

Oh and I live in Surrey and actually know a couple of rozzers. I'm not surprised they have time to waste a load of money pissing about with this thing, you should see their tea and biscuit bill.

They have recently shut loads of local nicks, I'm pretty sure the money pissed up the wall on this Siren crap could have kept a few open for a bit. I also happen to know one of their closed stations had its own cat. I hope they re-homed the bugger properly, I cant see it going down to well relocating him to the council offices with the rest of the staff!

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Meh

IT Magic

One could argue that if they have the lowest crime rate in the country then other departments should be emulating what they are instead of Surrey attempting to IT magic their way to less work (which is the vernacular meaning of saving taxpayer dollars, when you are already leading the pack).

Sure there might be things that could be more efficient but those efficiencies should not be chased in lieu of getting away from their primary task or at the great loss of funds (this goes for any company or agency).

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Re: IT Magic

They don't have the lowest crime figures because of anything the police there do particularly well, they have them because it happens to have a low-crime demographic.

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14m in 8 years?

whats the big deal? that could come out of the petty cash!

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Anonymous Coward

Should be asking why any English police force spends money on a county-level intelligence database when the Home Office has dropped serious coin on the police national database that was a key recommendation from the Bichard Inquiry.

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Surrey Integrated Reporting Enterprise Network

You've got to have a good acronym!

Otherwise, what would all those marketing committees do?

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Coat

'Brit cops blow £14m on software - then just flush it down the bogs'

Surely that should be

'It fell down the stairs, boss'

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Unhappy

I smell con-sultants telling the force "This is what you need."

As others have said it may not be cut and dried. Surey might have had legitimate reasons why COTS software (I mean in this sector, not something you can get at PC World) could not hack it. But boy has it taken a long time to get anywhere near release.

There seems to be obsession in govt/local govt/public sector work with "Ohh we do something so special no one sells anything like what we need." I'm looking at you especially MoD.

And boy do the HP's, IBM's and Crap Geminis of this world (and their smaller breathren) play that one.

I would suggest this is wrong most of the time. The problem is abstracting the unusual features of the task and identifying software that meets those, possibly from very different industries. And of course there are 46 English and Welsh police force. It's pretty hard to believe they catch criminals in a totally unique way.

Bottom line a package (even a modded one within reason) spreads costs across multiple users and should catch bugs faster (more users testing it).

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Re: I smell con-sultants telling the force "This is what you need."

Not just the public sector who think that way, many private companies have the same attitude. What, use the industry standard process/system that's been tried and tested over many years, and just tailor it to suit us? Never - we are soooo very special that we need to write everything from scratch!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I smell con-sultants telling the force "This is what you need."

Can almost tell what went on here :

Whoever was chosen to supply the software ships over a few hundred ICT developers to do project, these are of course straight from Uni because they are cheap, the software companies architect produces a spec for what he thinks the requirements demand, and is then involved in lengthy discussions with client where these are changed frequently as reality of what is required is revealed, complexity of the project and costs rise accordingly.

The client adds or removes more features as time goes on and the ICT developers have to re-write key sections several times due to requirement changes and the fact they are not experienced developers and also make basic mistakes, the rate of bug fixes/testing required is higher because of their inexperience.

As the progress of the project is glacial it gradually becomes obsolete and gets damming reviews from Police staff UAT testing the system, senior management decide to cancel the project and buy the off the shelf package being used in the neighboring county that one of their mates use and says is brilliant.

Seen this happen a lot with Government/Council IT systems

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Joke

Monopoly Money

Who cares, its only monopoly money! If we spend it, they'll just print us some more.

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Coat

£13M?

We could have had a couple of funerals for that!

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Re: £13M?

This type of funeral only happens a handful of times a century. Government IT cockups on the other hand...

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Anonymous Coward

"Now the force has changed its mind and decided to go with a system already in use by other forces. The decision was savaged by tax campaigners as a waste of public money."

This is criminal negligence!

Lets see them being locked up, useless f*ckers.

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Unhappy

Memex, bought by SAS in 2010?

Wikipedia Memex

Looks like they were a spinoff from Hairy Wonk U.

Timing suspicious? Project stuffed as company gets assimilated by new parent?

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