When any major IT project is cancelled it’s rarely easy to establish exactly what has gone wrong and why. The customer often accuses the supplier of being late and delivering a system that’s not fit for purpose. Those who work for the supplier sometimes wonder whether the customer has cancelled a contract because it no longer needs, or wants, or can afford the system it ordered.
In the case of a project to replace the Police Portal, which has been cancelled by the National Policing Improvement Agency, it’s again unclear what has gone wrong and why. These are the events leading up to the cancellation of the project and the legal dispute with Qinetiq, the supplier of the replacement Police Portal.
Late 2000: The Home Office asks the Police Information Technology Organisation [PITO], now the National Policing Improvement Agency, to deliver the police service’s first national e-services system in three months. PITO’s task was to provide and manage an internet-based portal so that the public could notify police online about non-urgent crime.
January 2001: BT wins a contract to design, implement and manage a secure hosted Police Portal. The consultation period between BT and police forces is intense. There is input from various police forces while the system was being built.
March 2001: Andrew Smith, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Graham Stringer, a Cabinet Office Minister, announce a list of innovative public service projects that have received part of £60m worth of funding, among them the Police Portal.
April 2001: The Police Portal goes live, on time and to budget. BT describes it as a world-first. It connects dozens of police forces across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and enables the public to report crime to a central point online from any location without needing details of the appropriate police force. BT says: “The police portal is resilient, secure, accessible and demonstrates UK police forces working together with the private sector to deliver a joined-up service to the public.”
March 2005: The Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) issues a tender for a new UK National Police Portal. It says that it would prefer the winning contractor to use Solaris, Java and Oracle, though tenderers “may suggest alternative platforms if they prove to be cost effective”. All staff involved with the project must be cleared or be willing to obtain security clearance under the UK Government Vetting Scheme to Secret level.
September 2005: The Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) awards a four and a half year contract to provide and manage a replacement UK National Police Portal System to QinetiQ, a global defence technology and security company. The replacement portal is expected to go into operation in April 2006.
The formal notice of contract award says: “The nature of the service is such that the contract specifications cannot be established with sufficient precision to permit the award of the contract according to the rules governing open or restricted procedures.”
The enhanced portal would automatically prioritise information received from the public, ensuring the “appropriate police force was provided with important and relevant information in a timely manner”. It’s expected to allow the public to pinpoint a crime on a digital map.
Tom McArthur, Director of Operational Services at PITO, says: “This contract award will enable the continued development and expansion of online police services in the UK. The Police Portal plays a pivotal role supporting police forces in disseminating public information and ensuring public safety”.
Alan Stanmore, Commercial Director at PITO, adds: “QinetiQ was awarded the contract as a result of a competitive tender process and has an excellent track record of managing and hosting complex and secure web services for central government and agencies. PITO and QinetiQ have an established relationship having worked together to deliver a variety of services as part of PITO ’s drive toward modernising UK policing”.
April 2006: The replacement system has not gone operational as expected. It’s not clear why: whether the technology was late or deficient or whether an acceptable system was not accepted by PITO for its own reasons.
31 March 2007: The Police Portal contract with BT expires and is not renewed. Pito is abolished and replaced by the National Policing Improvement Agency on 1 April 2007. The Police Portal service is suspended.
April 2007: The National Policing Improvement Agency agency confirms to Computer Weekly that it is reviewing Pito’s work and programmes, including IT-based projects, and does not rule out cancelling some of its activities.
“The creation of the National Policing Improvement Agency has given the police service a unique opportunity to review and challenge the full range of national projects, programmes and services moving into the agency. It would be wrong for an improvement agency continue to deliver national support to policing in the same way as the organisations it is replacing… There is broad agreement across the police service that the ‘national portfolio’ of projects, programmes and services supporting policing is too large and may be beyond the delivery capacity of the police service … There will be occasions when work has to be re-sequenced or stopped. The latter will not happen without extensive consultation with and the agreement of the police service. A detailed decommissioning process is in place to determine whether a particular activity should stop. Changes to NPIA projects and programmes will be announced once they have been finalised and agreed with the police service.”
April 2007: A request under the Freedom of Information Act establishes that the six year-old Police Portal cost £5.1million to run in one year alone – in 2006/7. It’s reported that the National Policing Improvement Agency has asked Chief Constables across the country whether they would contribute to the cost of the police portal. Many are said to believe that the portal is not a good use of resources.
December 2007: The National Policing Improvement Agency confirms that the Police Portal is no longer operational and that the replacement contract with Qinetiq has been cancelled amid a legal dispute.
A spokeswoman for the agency tells Computer Weekly: “This service is no longer available. The system that was in development was not fit for live use – due a range of serious defects and delays – and consequently failed User Acceptance Testing. It is not possible to issue more details as it is now subject to legal proceedings.”
She adds: “Registered data received from the public is subject to the Data Protection Act and will be destroyed or, with consent, transferred over to their local force messaging system.”
A spokesman for Qinetiq says his organisation is legal dispute over the replacement system.