Gateway benefits Probation Service

The Probation Service is already reaping the benefits of the Government's Gateway Review process for managing major IT projects,...

The Probation Service is already reaping the benefits of the Government's Gateway Review process for managing major IT projects, according to Robin Pape, head of IT at the National Probation Service.

The process was implemented last March when the Probation Service was procuring the initial stage of the controversial Standard Technical Environment for Probation Services (Steps). A recently leaked report commissioned by the Probation Boards Association expressed concern about the way the contract with supplier Integris to upgrade the service's IT had been managed.

However, Pape said the Gateway Review has been used to good effect. He explained, "It helped us deliver the Steps 1 project on time and significantly under budget." He was unable to specify the exact cost saving that has been made.

Launched last year, the Gateway Reviews are expected to shave £500m off the cost of government procurement on a range of major projects by 2003.

Pape said, "The Gateway Review is about managing risks and timescales." It looks at your project management and examines whether you have a firm structure, the right skills and the right roles in place, he added.

The Probation Service has been dogged by inadequate IT and poor project management in recent times. Last year a National Audit Office report highlighted the fact that Steps' predecessor, the National Probation Service Information Systems Strategy, employed seven different programme directors between 1993 and 2000, of whom only two had significant experience of managing IT projects.

Pape, who took over as head of IT at the National Probation Directorate in January last year, believes the service is now resolving its long-standing IT problems. "The Steps procurement process is a building block, we had to get that contract in place to deliver better IT for the Probation Service," he said.

The contract, which covers support and maintenance of the Probation Service's IT infrastructure, desktops and case management systems was signed with IT
supplier Integris last year. Integris was recently taken over by systems integrator Steria.

Pape acknowledges that the Probation Service faces a tough task in trying to instil confidence in the new IT strategy among users. Its problematic Crams case management system, for example, was described by probation officers as "a dangerous and farcical waste of money".

"There is a job to do in persuading everybody that things are different, but we are putting the building blocks in place and the Gateway Reviews demonstrate that we are delivering what we say we will," he said.

Pape also expects the Probation Service's technology overhaul to result in a recruitment drive over the coming year. "I am probably looking for around 12 permanent IT staff over the next 12 months," he said.

What is a Gateway Review?
The Gateway Process examines a public sector project at critical stages in its lifecycle to provide assurance that it can progress successfully to the next stage. It is designed to be applied to schemes that procure services, property, IT-enabled business change projects and procurements using framework contracts.

Read more on IT project management