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back to article Hey, MoJ, we're not your Buddi: Brit firm abandons 'frustrating' crim-tagging contract

Talks between the UK Ministry of Justice and British firm Buddi for a new system to electronically tag criminals have broken down after Buddi's founder claimed the MoJ wanted a system that was a "figment of their imagination". Sara Murray, who is a member of business secretary Vince Cable's "entrepreneurs' panel", said in a …

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WTF?

Buddi's founder claimed the MoJ wanted a system that was a "figment of their imagination" … said in a leaked email to staff that the ministry wanted "the development of a product which does not yet exist".

Crikey, she's never come across the idea of someone developing a new system that does exactly what the client wants?

Or the concept that a client, having paid you a lot of money to develop a new system, would expect you to hand over the IP that you generated developing that new system.

I make my daily bread developing things that do not exist yet and only exist in the figment of someone's imagination, have done for quite some time.

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That is a quote without full context. The article says that Buddi opted out of the contract after the MoJ changed the specifications, so it seems safe to assume that the context of the quote is that the MoJ wanted something substantially different from what Buddi thought they had signed up to provide. That happens with government bodies and large organisations. A lot.

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Yes, it's not the first time. I've seen it before, they want to pay for an off the shelf solution, but they want it to do things that the off the shelf solution doesn't do, and then they don't want to pay for development, they want that to be paid for by the solution provider (at risk), and then they still want to keep the IP.

Um, no.

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Hah!

How many times have I been halfway through a development project when some sales droid (sorry, relationship manager) comes back from a pissed up progress meeting with a list of new features that s/he has told the client "Oh I'm sure the boys can add those, at the same cost, inthe same timeframe, no problem. I mean it's just zeroes and ones isn't it?"

Cue the raised voices at the next review meeting when MY team is pilloried for not meetin THEIR new requirements.

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Unhappy

@tony72

"That is a quote without full context. The article says that Buddi opted out of the contract after the MoJ changed the specifications, so it seems safe to assume that the context of the quote is that the MoJ wanted something substantially different from what Buddi thought they had signed up to provide. That happens with government bodies and large organisations. A lot."

And because they are a real company, and not a govt con-tractor they thought "Stuff this for a game of soldiers" and walked away from it.

My suspicion is some civil servant has gotten a nice fat brown envelope to a)Get them to develop the software so they can then "license" it to his paymaster for a peppercorn license or b)P**s Buddie off so much they walk away and their paymaster gets a shot at the contract

BTW can I suspect that "£300m contract" is IRL £30m/year over a decade."

Govt procurement. Just nothing like it.

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@John Smith 19

I often have the same suspicions when these things happen, that it's all backhanders and deals made on the golf course.

More often than that it's just blind incompetence from what I can gather.

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Anonymous Coward

Mmmm... I may be going out on a limb here but it seems to me that Buddi might be overreacting a bit.

First you generally can't have your cake and eat it - if a supplier is paid by client to develop a product, the IP generally belongs to the client not to the supplier....so if the MoJ pays Buddi to develop a product... the IP would go to the MoJ

Second even if you supply a product which you developed on your own funds, it is common practice for "critical" products and services to have the corresponding IP put in escrow with clear terms as to when this IP may be released to the client. This is done to avoid critical situations where the bespoke product suddenly becomes unavailable.

Imagine for example that the supplier of a key piece of software for Air Traffic Control suddenly goes under.... just before a major update was needed. The Air traffic Control authority would then be justified to ask for the IP (source code) to be released from escrow and ask a new supplier to manage the code.

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Stop

RTFA

The problem was not that the DoJ wanted them to develop something, but that the spec was expanded to include a requirement that was going to be expensive to develop and there was no extra money on offer to do so. If they had retained the IP rights then they could have made money selling that. As it was the DoJ wanted this extra work for nothing, plus the IP which they could hand to competitors for nothing also.

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Anonymous Coward

Doesn't the IP generally reside with the producer _unless_ the contract explicitly states that it is to be transferred to the client?

My T&Cs certainly state that's the case.

Your point about placing the IP in escrow is valid and shouldn't be of concern to a viable business.

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Boffin

IPR policy

Doesn't the IP generally reside with the producer _unless_ the contract explicitly states that it is to be transferred to the client?

UK Government policy is to generally allow the IPR to remain with Industry (the producer) as industry are better placed to exploit the IP and therefore the contract is a more worthwhile investment for the taxpayer.

However, if there is a specific reason to do so, contracts can state that the IPR produced under the contract is owned by the taxpayer. Specifically anything produced under the foreground of such the contract is Crown IPR.

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Yes, but the crux point here is that the MoJ did NOT appear to want to pay for the development costs in the NEW specification of the contract.

Looking at the whole article (I *DID* RTFA!), it seems that the MoJ wanted not to amend the terms of the existing contract, but to have Buddi agree to what would amount to a completely new contract to develop tech that the MoJ wanted, that would pay Buddi exactly the same as the old contract, AND at the end of the contract period lose them all the IP involved in developing the new technology that the MoJ wouldn't then be paying for.

That is, if not illegal, certainly immoral. You do NOT expect people to work for nothing, after all.

I can see why Buddi threw their toys out of the pram. Entirely reasonable response, IMHO.

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IP is generally *not* put in escrow

I've arranged escrow for quite a number of solutions over the years - the agreement is typically for an escrow copy of the source code and a non-exclusive and non-transferable licence to any IP required to maintain the software in the event of a trigger event (typically the insolvency)

The ownership of IP is entirely separate from the licencing of it and access to code.

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Anonymous Coward

You're all missing the point. No-one, particularly government bodies, knows precisely what they want when they commission something. The contract should have been written to allow for change and re-estimation, looks like Buddi failed to do that and are now crying in to their lattés.

1) They screwed the original contract - it should have had scope for whatever MoJ could think up, that is the point of doing consulting work - client changes their mind repeatedly, gravy.

2) Having screwed the original contract, they made it seem like MoJ were unreasonable for wanting features that do not exist in COTS. Er, yes, this is why they contracted you to develop it, and not bought COTS.

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Why generally?

If you get a photographer to take a family photo do you own the IP? If you get an architect to draft a design for an extension do you own the IP? The answer is no they retain the copyright in their original works which they have spent time and money in developing skills to develop so that they can create them.

Any company that creates unique ideas or products has invested in training, education, obtaining experience and a lot of other activities so as to give themselves a competitive edge in a competitive marketplace. Companies and particularly government departments do not pay enough for the services that they they receive to take ownership of the IP by default. There are however times when a company may agree to transfer IP to customer but that is in specific instances where there good and justifiable reasons to do so e.g. unique to a specific customer or in the interests of national security.

However, even in those restricted circumstances a company is still entitled to ensure that the customer only allows future suppliers to use the IP solely for the provision of services to that one customer and not to take it, commercialise it and flog it to other customers without ever actually having paid for or otherwise done anything material to contribute to its development.

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Actually putting something in to Escrow should concern any business

The idea that Escrow is a safety net is rubbish. If my firm goes bust the administrator has to be able to sell the assets to meet the company's debts. If the source code is in escrow and the customer or customers gain access to it and can get a third party to use and maintain it then my biggest asset (as a software company) is totally lost and the one thing that the administrator could have sold becomes worthless since any buyer of the company will not be in a position to seek software licences or support and maintenance fees from my customers.

Escrow may help the customer but it certainly shafts the developers and their debtors.

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Re: IPR policy

The policy was last I looked where the IPR could 'best exploited' (dangerously not defined as either exploited for the economic good or for minimizing public expenditure and TCO) and generally that will be the producer simply as Gov has no IPR licencing practice nor tracking process to detect infringement.

However that was implemented by standard clauses that left the default as the IPR being owned by the procurer often with little or no distinction as to the types of IPR (existing, foreground, residual etc). Its still knocking around as the default in many departments.

In part this happened as Gov made some simple mistakes like procuring reports that it intended to publish whilst the provider thought it was creating a private consultation report which it would resell and when they noticed there work being sent out for free were rather miffed.

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Anonymous Coward

Spelling Police Here

« and are now crying in to their lattés. »

"Latte", without the acute accent. Italian for "milk" and short for caffellatte (or caffè latte) meaning, rather evidently, coffee (with) milk. In Italian this word is invariable: "un caffellatte" / "due caffellatte" and in any case, the plural of latte (milk) is latti (milks).

In English, "lattes" might be admissible by the more orthographically liberal crowd, but never the aberration "*latté", not to mention the almost insulting "*lattés".

I like my coffee spelled correctly, thank you.

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Facepalm

Dullards

Wanted "the development of a product which does not yet exist".

Well yeah.... that's call a new system.

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Re: Dullards

The police order a bunch of Vauxhall Astras as patrol cars.

They then request that they fly and are invisibile

GM claims they want the development of a product that doesn't exist

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Re: Dullards

Wouldn't it be great though, if someone could develop a small system that took GPS signals and then used an embedded SIM card and circuits to somehow communicate with other devices when the GPS signals went too far from the designated point. Maybe some kind of short written message alert.

Yeah... that's a total figment of the imagination. No such thing exists. I can't blame them from wanting out of such a ridiculous requirement. I can't see how it could ever be done. Not without G4S-sized wads of cash, anyway.

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Mushroom

At least they didn't request equoids

"(Addendum: Going forward, SOE (X Division) OOAC recommends a blanket ban on all procurement specifications that involve supernatural equine entities (SEEs). For reference, see EQUESTRIAN RED SIRLOIN. This keeps coming up like a bad penny at least once every couple of decades, and it’s got to stop.)"

(http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/09/equoid for those who haven't read that story yet)

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Re: Dullards

And do you not think tagging criminals with such a system might be slightly weak?

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Re: Dullards

And work without a view of the sky

And have a battery that lasted weeks

And was tamperproof

And could survive years of use by an antagonistic user but wasn't as large and heavy as the Army's new "portable" radios

And has to meet arbitrary govt standard 314159 which means you need to certify that the plant in China that makes the GPS chip is also certified to GS314159 - which you can't do so you have to buy the GPS chip from Thales for 10x the price

....

...

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recompete

Recompete, that's a word now?

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Re: recompete

It happens so much in govt contracts I think it has to be.

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£1 billion for tags?

It would be cheaper to just stick the bad guys in the slammer.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: £1 billion for tags?

But then it's harder to make money out of them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: £1 billion for tags?

That's over the lifetime of the contract - and includes the supply of kit, building the BIL3 rated data centers, the command and control center (and suitable fail-over's), the several hundred employees to run a 24/7/365 operation with a 99.999% up-time specification... so it's not exactly a pure profit contract!

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Re: £1 billion for tags?

Or just invest in some chain and some heavy iron balls.

The price of scrap steel is pretty low at the moment

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It does _what_, now?

> Existing tagging technology sends a fax to police stations if an offender leaves their home

Fax, eh. I wonder if they've considered homing pigeons.

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Rob
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Changing times

Soon public sector will run out of companies to tender for jobs if they carry on with this attitude.

Well done to Buddi for backing out of that poison chalice. Usually this suddenly thought up requirement that gets pulled into scope at the last minute is the requirement that will kill a projects time frame and screw the awarded company making them take a financial hit. The reason a lot of government contracts are late or just written off usually starts because the civil servants in charge have fucked up the requirements so much and quite late into the contract, this is usually compounded by the awarded company not putting up a fight about it or using their exit strategy (there is usually an exit strategy as most civil servants could craft a water tight contract to save their lives).

And that's not even mentioning the complete failure that is Project Management in the public sector (typically numpty civil servants using PRINCE2 on an IT project, yeah it can work but there are better more efficient PM models to use).

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Re: Changing times

Based on past and extremely current experience I agree wholeheartedly with your view. You should also include customers who commit to dates before asking their suppliers if it is feasible to meet them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Changing times

Soon public sector will run out of companies to tender for jobs if they carry on with this attitude.

No they won't. Because, well, money.

Level of ignorance amongst the commentards in this thread is astonishing.

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Rob
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Re: Changing times

Don't be so sure, I've spoken to a number of design agencies that are getting 'turned off' by public sector due to OJEU rules, which requires them to jump through the same hoops at the same cost to themselves to pitch for business, regardless of whether they have won contracts with the institution before.

It's the SMBs that will turn away eventually and not come back, leaving the large multinational corps to bid which effectively sets the stage for price fixing which screws the public purse, and the merry go round continues.

On a side note your level of ignorance of what is actually happening on the ground doesn't astound me as that is probably why you are anon. it's a feature designed in part to hide the true identity of ignorance.

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"Sara Murray, who is a member of business secretary Vince Cable's "entrepreneurs' panel", said in a leaked email to staff that the ministry wanted "the development of a product which does not yet exist"."

What, a mobile phone on an anklet? It doesn't even have to look particularly stylish either, so just take a Nokia and strap it to their leg. I think with £1bn I can develop such a system, especially as electronic tags already exist.

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Yeah, I'm not sure what you do with products that don't yet exist other than develop them... but as others have said the MoJ not paying for this development and then keeping any IP they come up with as a result, seems a good a reason as any to let some one else do the development.

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Phrasing

"the development of a product which does not yet exist".

I know what they mean, and based on the article I probably agree with them, but that could have been phrased a lot better.

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Anonymous Coward

Do you do any research??

"Existing tagging technology sends a fax to police stations if an offender leaves their home"

Seriously do you think that's how backward it is??

The tags talk to a base station in the residence of the "subject"; should this person go out of range of the base unit during the curfew periods set by the court (usually 19:00 to 07:00), and alarm is sent to a system which flags the event. Alarms are also processed if the tag is tampered with, cut off, if the subject does not move for more than 6 hours (i.e. they are dead), or if anything happens to the base station - which also has a battery backup, accelerometers, etc.

Then this flag is presented to a person in the call center, who then have to phone up the subject to find out why they are out of the house (this is contractually stipulated to happen within a couple of minutes). If the person has a history of breaking the curfew requirements then a solicitor is sent to the court to plead for the issue of a warrant to have the subject thrown behind bars should the police manage to find them.

The "new contract" GPS tags do not work in an always on mode (unless this is part of the MoJ "we want the moon on a stick" variation to the specification) so the police are supposed to get a court order to access a subjects record and then enable tracking, hence the police can see where the subject is going and could use this as evidence to prove the subjects location at a particular time.

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Im all with the company on this one. I can only imagine the incompetence of a government tendering process, i've seen many large company ones and those are incompetent, the government is always worse. So good on them for not taking the shit and getting on with running their business for their other clients. Changing specifications is unacceptable after a tendering process, the idea is that both parties agree to do the work. The MoJ seems to think a tendering process is that everyone jumps over hoops to do whatever it decides should be done on a whim. Without thinking perhaps the company doesn't want this work now we have changed it.

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Declining Precision Induced by Misconfigured Proximity Discrimination Filters

An unpublicized feature of the system was to alert operators if the criminal was too close to other criminals. They're like feral chihuahuas when in groups you know; really dangerous.

Even though the requirements documents outlined the way the discrimination filters would work, the contractor had to concede and admit they could not, even with the finest tech and finest minds available, make the system discriminate between a criminal and a government bureaucrat.

Early trials showed promise, but the inductive charging system in the tags grew dangerously hot in the car parks of government facilities. One inside those facilities the tags were determined to be the cause of three fires (one fatality) as well as broadcast interference and absolute radio silence throughout a 10km radius if more than three (3) government bureaucrats were within 50m of a tag.

Studies will continue, but it is expected that great strides will have to be made in AI so that a computer can be taught to lie before the product will be trialed again.

Also, the MoJ today announced a new £793,000,000,000 initiative for advancing AI research.

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Not a surprise

Yes, from the same civil service that brought you the NHS IT cockup (and the one before), Universal Credit which cost nearly quarter of a million per registered user and more!

Oddly enough there are consultants on all of these projects getting (if I remember correctly) £3,000 a day! The same ones again and again.

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MoJ could not.....

find their arse if it was tagged.

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...wish they could speak English - what's this 'recompete'?...

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