Interview: 'Fire me if I fail,' says Serious Fraud Office CIO

The CIO at the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) says that if he does not succeed in implementing a series of risky IT-based projects "they can fire me".

The CIO at the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) says that if he does not succeed in implementing a series of risky IT-based projects "they can fire me".

In an exclusive interview with Computer Weekly, SFO CIO Josh Ellis said he is senior responsible owner for the Digital Review System, which is an internal project name for advanced case management and evidence handling systems, due to be delivered by the end of 2010.

"If I get it wrong they can fire me. I have no problem with that. I have come from a pedigree where you are only as good as your last project, or last job. I have a firm belief I can make this work."

It is rare for any CIO in a government department or agency to hold themselves personally and publicly accountable for the success or failure of IT-based projects and programmes.

Josh Ellis became the Serious Fraud Office's first CIO in May last year. He made it clear in his interview that he is a proponent of "small-is-beautiful", rather than an advocate of complex mega-projects.

Almost as soon as he started at the SFO, Ellis became involved in cancelling a tender for a suite of case management systems. The price submitted by bidders ran into tens of millions of pounds and was unaffordable, he said.

The decision meant that the Serious Fraud Office had to write off £1.2m for a feasibility study which had set out the specifications for the tender.

But Ellis and his colleagues had discovered that they could buy the same solution for 75% less than the bid prices. This was partly because, after a series of mergers and acquisitions, the SFO found it could buy the systems previously available from different companies from a single supplier. Other savings came when Ellis decided to take on the risks in-house, instead of transferring them to an expensive systems integrator.

He said, "The key is to get a small, highly-skilled team and get on and do it, as opposed to going for an extremely large and potentially cumbersome systems integration-led project.

"This was literally one of my first jobs when I walked into this building: to be involved in cancelling that tender, simply for the reason it [could have been] a waste of taxpayers' money."

Ellis did not disclose the SFO's spend on a suite of systems that are due to be implemented by the end of this year, but he said the saving was tens of millions of pounds over the original project.

"There are a number of ways in which you can run these projects. Using the system implementers actually outsources all the risk onto their shoulders Whereas if you want to in-house the project, and shoulder the risk yourself, and make it happen, you have the opportunity of making a product work much faster for a far smaller price tag, though obviously you have to take the risk onboard yourself."

Ellis said that some of the systems bought since the cancellation of the tender have gone online. "We have already demonstrated a very early return on investment, where we have got gigabytes of digital evidence being reviewed by our case teams around the office. That is within six months of procuring this new product."

Ellis joined the SFO from PriceWaterhouseCoopers where he was director of fraud investigations. He has worked in Moscow and Prague, and has experience of investigating bribery cases under the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act.


The Digital Review System

  • Case management
  • Management reporting tools
  • Evidence handling
  • Digital workflow
  • Document management systems

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