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back to article Met Police spaffs £250m keeping 'ineffective' IT systems running - report

The Metropolitan Police are wasting £212m a year maintaining IT gear including a network based on a 1970s-era baggage-handling system, a damning report from the capital's assembly claims. A full 85 per cent of the force's £250m IT budget goes on maintaining “out-of-date, ineffective and overly expensive technology, some of which …

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Well that seems a lot, but how much would it cost to update it?

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The report sounds as confused as the existing IT

> tech it believes the police should be using but isn't – such as mobile apps, social media and the cloud. ... national rollout of 41,000 devices between 2008 and 2011 sucked up £71m while achieving very little.

So which is it? The Met should spend a ton of hard-paid community charge and taxes on tens of thousands of hand-held devices, or not do it because they've been shown to be ineffective?

It does appear that there's a total leadership vacuum at the top of the Met, so far as IT is concerned. No ordinary business could ever justify having 70% of it's (obsolete) IT kit as redundant. Assuming their meaning of "redundant" is the same as everybody else's and this isn't just a political football being kicked resolutely towards one's own goal.

As with a lot of these things, the blame lies firmly with the top echelons. The IT management for not spending their budget wisely, and the Met's top brass for keeping them on and allowing this situation to arise. Maybe the time has come to outsource the whole mess to a foreign call centre. Then they'll really learn a thing or two about "having to re-enter the same information in ten different systems"

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Anonymous Coward

We cant respond to the current crimes, instead we chalk the up as non crimes or downgrade the charge

We cant manage or trust our own staff

we cant stamp out institutional racism

we continue to pull law abiding citizens on a monday morning commute fishing for anything that could be considered an issue with their car, then crush it.

but ipads and smart phones are going to solve it all.

blimey! never knew my tablet weilded so much power!

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...mobile apps, social media and the cloud

This pisses me right off. What exactly is "the cloud" going to do for the police?

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Anonymous Coward

Erm......

Cost us taxpayers loads of money so someone can lord it up at the fact that everything is now in "the cloud", might even let a loads of criminals off due to stuff getting lost in "the cloud"

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Now now wot 'av we 'ear

I was proceeding in a norverlee direction when it all went pear shaped. I feel a section 7 coming on.

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Call me Mr Cynical...

.. but is Mr Biggs anging to try to persuade the Met to start / join a project like SouthWest One?

http://www.bestpracticegroup.com/southwest-one-failure/

The comments he is making sound remarkably similar to those that were made by the people that tried to persuade everyone in Somerset that it would be the best way forward.

This is not to say that the Met don't need updating; I imagine that it is long overdue. But it might be appropriate to actually check the details before rushing to embrace some horrendously expensive plan that ends up costing the tax payer a bloody fortune.

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Re: Call me Mr Cynical...

SWO is a little better now I believe, but its still not great.

One of the issues was that even the initial partners took ages to actually get on-board! Avon & Somerset Police didn't fully join in until very recently, and when they did SWO had to redesign various aspects of their service - rather than them simply being able to add them to existing systems. Meaning, more cost.

Also, a fair amount of good talent was lost due to the mess too - those people who knew the IT systems left either through voluntary redundancy or through general displeasure with the way SWO worked,.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm so worried about the baggage retrieval system they have in the Met ?

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It would explain why so many of the cases in the system get damaged

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Holmes

Yep, that's what happens when you enter into a poor outsourcing contract and get stiffed for £££s to move a printer.

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Anonymous Coward

Interesting timing, producing this report in the same month that Ailsa Beaton OBE leaves the Met/ACPO after running the Met's IT for the last 12 years. Blows the lid off what's been occuring?

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Anonymous Coward

Indeed. My missus used to work in DoI and still knows a fair few people there. Her interpretation of events is that somewhat belatedly the rest of the Met has figured out that their IT is crap and costs too much and so the person at the top was made to carry the can. I'm sure that some very expensive (and crap) for the Met deals with Cap Gemini probably didn't do much to help.

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Anonymous Coward

Do they use unidata?

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Anonymous Coward

Do they use unidata?

NO, used to be SERCO and CAPITA until 2011, which one won the rebid I dont know

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Do they use unidata?

Erm, not sure who you're thinking of, but the Met Police has been Cap Gemini for several years now. I believe that Cap have recently got them to spaff a lot more money on a hosted e-mail system too.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Do they use unidata?

I think the baggage system referred to is actualy the old Harris mainframe base airline reservation system and is used as the main bit of their incident management / dispatch system. Same as LA and NYC police also used to use - Harris became part of the foundation of Unisys, who still run this bit for the Met. The re-bid has not yet happened. Has to happen this year as already used up contract extension to cover Olympics but they are running late on getting into the tender process. Probably a result of not having any staff left who know what is needed and the usual internal challenges between business users and internal IT. .

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Re: Do they use unidata? old Harris mainframe re-bid

Definitely opportunity for a London Ambulance Service style of project failure, only it will probably be public cloud (SaaS?) instead of PC's running an early version of Windows ...

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Anonymous Coward

£80 for a new mouse.

This is the sort of thing the money gets wasted on. They arent allowed to simply go-to PC-World or whatever and spend £5 on a mouse, they have to pay for the official/endorsed item to be supplied and fitted and no doubt "managed" as part of the desktop management contract.

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The computer will never replace good policing no, but seeing as no good policing is being done, it can't do any worse can it.

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I was one of those staff that took redundancy. The whole place is out of date and managers are refusing to do anything about it, and usually don't authorise fixes on problems until they become critical (or have already fallen over and a irreparable)

My servers were out of date, out of service, and were running for over 7 years when they were meant to be temporary replacements for a maximum of 6 weeks. We also had no backup for those archacic servers.

The whole force's IT is a mess, and is likely to completely fall apart before anything is done to repair it (and those repairs are very unlikely to be efficiant ones that stand the test of time!)

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Anonymous Coward

It is of course all a little more complicated :-)

First of all you have to understand that the the Met is not only the largest (in budget anyway) Police Force in the UK, as well as being the one with the most political clout (keeping all those politicians safe, hosting various high profile groups). This has one very obvious effect - if forces across the UK are going to roll out a new system and standardise it, there will be a National Standard and the 'Met' standard - if indeed forces can be persuaded to agree. Learning from other forces really is not a very Met-type behaviour.

Secondly, and to be fair to them, this is something they have learned, multiple attempts to upgrade legacy systems (so how many lines of Cobol still do a perfectly reasonable job well beyond the sell by date) have had 'variable' results. The chaps on the desks have learnt that 'a working system - albeit imperfect - in the hand is worth two in the developers/consultants eyes'. This does go some way to explaining the legacy problem. Of course the other competing explanation is that the highly paid consultants from PWC (to name no names) and others who swan in on a short term contract and leave the system in tatters when the money runs out have left their mark on the chaps and chapesses who just want to get on with the policing.

Finally (well one could go on), it is difficult to underplay the effect of ministers and civil servants who have gadget mania. A handheld device for recoding fingerprints for example. When this is combined with CESGs demands for security everywhere (let down a little by the tendency of many to put their passwords on a yellow sticky by their desk - cunningly disguised by a ROT2 or some such) and what looked like a good idea becomes something that requires two hand to operate, passwords to be entered (long passwords, reset on a regular basis) and generally take more time than they are worth. Meanwhile, simple things, such as an ability to share mugshots between forces, get ignored.

Budgets are handled appallingly, in part because of a penny pinching, outsource all development mentality that leads to short term projects that terminate mid completion, requiring a new groups of consultants to be hire in to complete with all of the consequent overheads.

It'\s a combination of political pressure to work in specific ways - c/o Whitehall, and enthusiasm for bright new shiny technology (actually generally Whitehall/Westminster with an occasional ACPO board member in the frame) and an inherited bureaucracy that is a wonder to behold - more managers with responsibility for technical innovation than Injuns on the ground.

And yes, VR was a great decision as many of the competent staff exited PDQ (some to aforementioned consultancies).

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Re: It is of course all a little more complicated :-)

I wonder if there are any other countries with a police force who might have already built some computer system - that the Met could buy?

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It was then suggested that a new system be created, there is now one more redundant system.

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The force blamed its voluntary redundancy programme for allowing skilled staff to jump ship to the private sector, while the report's authors took a swipe at Conservative mayor Boris Johnson for cutting non-uniformed back office staff and driving out those skilled sysadmins

Ah it's all the fault of the skilled staff who kept the systems running... oh and Boris Johnson who forced you to cut those skilled staff...

Just so long as we're all clear that it wasn't in anyway the fault of the management, who's job obviously isn't to ensure that the IT you have is suitable and fit for purpose, or indeed the fault of those who hold the purse strings... no it'll be the fault of your (ex) sysadmins... it all makes perfect sense.

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FAIL

2 systems needs same date being entered into them is sign of big fail

Either get one master, one slave or merge them.

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Re: 2 systems needs same date being entered into them is sign of big fail

If you've got proprietary and/or badly designed systems, connecting those systems may be next to impossible.

That's why you should, if possible, design your systems with simple and open interfaces so you can connect them. Always question the need for a database, it may be the right decision, but login data, for example, may be better off in a separate text file so it can be synced with other systems.

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Anonymous Coward

"Police waste money on mobile data" - well perhaps, but there is a good analysis of it here http://www.wireless-mag.com/Features/21823/Evaluating_the_use_of_mobile_data_in_the_police_.aspx

And the Met is no different to many large businesses. The IT department delivered what the business wanted. "We need a stock control system", "we need an accounts payable system". Then, twenty years later, "why do we have so many separate systems?".

See bank mergers for further details.

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Anonymous Coward

Sounds familiar

I used to be a sysadmin for the plod, but not in the Met. Some of this sounds all too familiar. Senior managers saying yes to everything, no matter how poor the idea. And when we advised of yet another potential horrible mess, we were told "they are our customers, we have to give them what they want"

Despite rarely having any request denied, PC Plod still got impatient enough to go out and buy software direct from suppliers without even notifying the I.T. dept. They would turn up at I.T., dump boxed software on someones desk and asked for it to be loaded onto a server. Management would put up a token fuss before caving in and agreeing to run it. About 20% of the apps I supported had come in via this route and they nearly always did not do the job to the customers satisfaction. And then PC Plod complains because it does not integrate with our existing apps and he has to double key data.

And ancient hardware! I once retired a server that was into double digits in years of service.

When I quit in mid 2012 for a similar paid job in a better run organisation, they were still rolling out XP to the desktop. Periodic contact with former colleagues reveal things still getting worse. Glad I'm out.

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Anonymous Coward

Talking of police IT, whatever happened to the Police ICT Company? Maybe they could upgrade the Met's 'puters?

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Anonymous Coward

Altogether now!

It won't be fixed while you only let in companies that have dozens of already DV cleared staff on their books.

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"one core operating system dates back to a 1970s baggage handling system"

Nice soundbyte that every journalist seems to have picked up, but I note the report does not make any further reference to this system either to explain why it is core or to make any recommendation as to how it could be replaced.

Remember from a previous El Reg article, Canadian nuclear power stations rely on 1970's PDP-11 tech and are committed to maintaining it until at least 2050.

So does any one know what this core system does and is it a case that it just keeps on going?

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Re: "one core operating system dates back to a 1970s baggage handling system"

From an earlier post, it appears they're talking about about the dispatch system (CAD), which is based on a mainframe airline reservation system.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "one core operating system dates back to a 1970s baggage handling system"

From an earlier post, it appears they're talking about about the dispatch system (CAD), which is based on a mainframe airline reservation system.

Would you like an aisle or window seat in the police van back to the station? :-)

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Re: "one core operating system dates back to a 1970s baggage handling system"

Lets hope it isn't as getting something as simple as this wrong, would undermine the entire report...

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Anonymous Coward

I've visited a few police stations (not Met ones) to install hardware. It seemed like a fair number of the IT staff were ex-police officers who had retired, started drawing their pension, and then been re-employed in a back-office role. I did wonder whether they were really the best people for the job. I don't know if that's a factor in the Met.

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Tactical Change Needed

The biggest failing of such companies usually comes down to the manner in which they operate. Because everything is accounted for individually, and every change usually goes through a lengthy and resultantly costly process, the entire IT system usually becomes quickly outdated and inefficient.

Personally I would look at changing the way they do business. Rather than providing funding for indivdual business items piece by piece, and frequently paying through the nose for it, I would be more inclined to contract a number of full time resources. From there on I'd encourage a RAD approach, and keep a seperate data warehouse / accessible demo environment.

Once that's done, work simply needs to be prioritised within the business. Then your contracted workers can go through it within your priority order based on skillsets. You then review how they perform against your expectations / targets.

Too many such companies grow stale and stagnate, idle workers waiting for approved work. Provide the opportunity to set a faster pace and I'd bet the evolution of your IT systems would take on a far far faster pace.

Requirement 1: Competent, intelligent and imaginative skilled staff.

Requirement 2: A desire within the business to adapt and embrace improvements, and keep an open mind to new ideas.

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