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The approach, by members of the Criminal Justice Information Technology (CJIT) organisation, contrasts with the Department of Health's plans to take on highly complex national projects and award huge contracts to a small group of big suppliers.
John Wailing, head of technical design at CJIT, said, "We do not just want to write a requirement, throw it over the wall to the trade and then suffer some humiliation because the requirement is not understood, and it all looks too hard. We want to do it in smaller pieces, so we know it is going to work".
Traditionally, central departments have undertaken major modernisations by awarding large contracts to a single supplier. But projects like these have often ended in failure or the service to the public being severely disrupted.
Wailing said the new approach is to have "quite a number of partners" rather than a "monolithic contract", which he said could be too big and too hard to manage. "One argument for having a variety of partners is peer pressure," he said.
Wailing revealed details of CJIT's plans at a conference last week in London run by Intellect, which represents technology suppliers.
One of the aims of CJIT is to allow case files on defendants, now held on paper, to be transferred electronically between the police, courts, prisons, probation officers, lawyers and witnesses.
Ministers have allocated £1bn to CJIT in the hope their IT projects will speed up the criminal justice system and allow victims of crime to keep track of cases