back to article Red flag: Home Office inks £45m border tech extension with IBM

The Home Office has inked a £45m 33-month contract extension with IBM for its creaking Semaphore border technology contract. The Semaphore database, which has been running since 2004, collects data from airline carriers about persons of interest and those who are on watch lists before they arrive at the border. It was created …

  1. ecofeco Silver badge


    Yer fooked.

    1. overunder Bronze badge

      Re: Yep

      How so? This read to me like one G-Man said to another G-Man, do you want this in your new thing? Alright cool... come get it.

      Considering "National Security", I'm not sure if this could ever burn enough cash to crash. I do wonder though how much actual cash it took to create Vs. all the contractor "costs". While it is seemingly very sensitive data, it really doesn't seem all that mind blowing of an application. "Hey look dude is flying in."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Hey look dude is flying in."

        Which dude, did the dude always have that name, were they always a dude, if not, were they born a dude then transitioned then transitioned back etc, all simple enough, then how do we know which dude and how to we link to our other dude tracking systems and what do Home Office regulations say about when we can and when we can't call someone a dude and whether we're allowed peek in their pants to check and who is saying they're a dude and how do we prove forensically that was someone authorised to make that decision and where do we keep the audit log of that information and no they don't make those systems anymore and the interface needs to be coded in ALGOL with machine code interrupts and, did I mention we're checking hat size now and...

        Public Sector are a nightmare and only companies big enough to rotate staff through as the original ones go mad or retire can stay engaged long enough to deliver anything.

  2. steviebuk Silver badge

    The HRMC.....

    ...will take all that money back fucking over the contractors with IR35.

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: The HRMC.....

      The numbers indicate that they probably will not even be able to do that.

    2. Dwarf Silver badge

      Re: The HRMC.....


      A handful of skilled contractors could have delivered a G-Cloud native, scale-out, current generation architecture at a fraction of that cost if only

      1. They were given the opportunity

      2. If they could find anyone contracting who wanted to work for Gov.UK inside IR35 in the first place.

  3. macjules Silver badge

    Crazy Name, Crazy Guy

    ".. chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Bolt,"

  4. 's water music Silver badge

    limited efficiency

    The thing with being in bed with the big systems integrators is that it stops the Home Office achieving as much as it wants to. IME that is only ever a good thing and is often worth the wasted public finances

    1. theblackhand Silver badge

      Re: limited efficiency

      While I came to disagree and suggest instead it was the Home Office not really knowing what it wanted that was the main issue, in retrospect there's also the politicians.

      Given that the Home Secretary, the Home Office and their chosen parasite, when compared purely on ability, only really number 3 of the required 10,000 monkeys to produce something spectacular, the chances of getting any sensible result or value for money is low.

      As you say, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    2. Dr_N Silver badge

      Re: limited efficiency

      You can still pay the big bucks and afford to burn immigration records and then deport British Subjects. So it doesn't curtail a rampant HomeSec that much.

      1. theblackhand Silver badge

        Re: limited efficiency

        Are you sure we aren't seeing the curtailed Home Office?

        Sure there was the Windrush scandal and others, but compare that to how councils operate and their misuse of camera footage or access to personal records.

        Imagine a home office that had the ability to give senior staff and politicians what they want?

        1. Dr_N Silver badge

          Re: limited efficiency

          "Imagine a home office that had the ability to give senior staff and politicians what they want?"

          That'd be Priti scary !!!

  5. phuzz Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    It's fine! Brexit is the solution!

    It'll fuck up the whole country so bad, that nobody will want to come here anyway!

  6. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    I suppose that if you are in the habit of throwing public funds into a black hole, it is difficult to kick it.

  7. Robin Saunter

    Project Semaphore

    I have to smirk. I was part of Semaphore's

    customer-side development team. We never told senior management exactly what we were doing so they couldn't interfere. We had both operational experience and a good knowledge of the technology. We had a great relationship with the developers and ran what might now be called an Agile project. Thankfully, I left the project before its planned successor went pear-shaped. The name Semaphore came from the system of Admiralty signalling towers which conveyed messages from London to Portsmouth a couple of centuries ago. Simple and reliable. Except when it was foggy.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Semaphore databases

    When I last heard, the IBM systems for the Semaphore databases were not 'creaking at the seams'.

    There was an issue with the way that the databases were set up with the increased traffic that has been being pushed through them. This meant that they could have done with being re-organized, and possibly the DB software brought up to date, but the systems and SAN running the production database(s) still had plenty of grunt for what was the current work with some headroom, and are in support, having been refreshed between two and three years ago. Not sure about the current state.

    There may be other issues in the rest of the application stack, though.

    The biggest problem was always with the Home Office, because trying to obtain the necessary maintenance windows to allow the required patching and maintenance, and the budget to buy replacement hardware and software was always a major problem (HO basically own the kit). Because the contracts have had the Sword of Damocles hanging over them for quiite a considerable time while the replacement systems were being debated and built, the opinion of the HO was always "just keep it running until the end of the contract, we don't need any remedial work". Now it looks like the replacement is running so late (or possibly not going to be delivered at all, maybe), it may just may be that IBM refused to extend it for a further short period, because that option has been stretched as far as it can go without slowing change or compromising the service.

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