The Home Office has invited IT suppliers to submit bids to build a multimillion-pound computer network to process classified intelligence gathered on illegal immigrants as part of a crackdown on bogus asylum seekers.
The proposed computer system, codenamed Mycroft, will provide up to 2,000 intelligence officers at airports and ports across the UK and overseas with access to covert surveillance reports, intelligence from informants, and details of forged passports and identity documents.
The system is being introduced to support home secretary, David Blunket's commitments to reduce the number of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants entering the UK and to provide the infrastructure for the police, intelligence services and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate's joint action plan against illegal immigration.
Mycroft will allow the Home Office's immigration intelligence directorate to process classified intelligence information, and to share it securely with law enforcement and intelligence agencies through government's secure intranet.
The Home Office put the project out to tender this month after scrapping plans to award the work to Fujitsu and the Sirius consortium, which had a £350m contract to update the department's business systems, following discussions with the Office of Government Commerce.
In a departure from normal practice, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has asked suppliers to base their proposals on packaged software rather than bespoke applications and to keep any software customisation to a minimum.
The move is likely to improve the project's chances of success and help the government meet a tight timetable, said Richard Sykes, chairman of IT consultant Morgan Chambers.
"If you are happy to operate on the 80/20 rule, you want to get pretty much what you are after, and there are good off-the-shelf packages around, then there is a tremendous sense of speed and robustness with packaged software."
The contract for the IT system and a wide range of system support services is due to be awarded to a prime contractor in April next year. Desktop terminals will be rolled out to the first 500 users by the end of 2004, with up to 2,000 intelligence officers using system, from the UK and overseas within five years.
Mycroft will replace the Home Office's existing immigration intelligence computer system, codenamed Doris, an interim solution, which is not regarded as secure enough for confidential intelligence material, government documents reveal.