Lack of user consultation doomed CRB system

The calamitous implementation of a system at the Criminal Records Bureau stemmed in part from false assumptions that were...

The calamitous implementation of a system at the Criminal Records Bureau stemmed in part from false assumptions that were inadequately researched with potential users.

A report published last week by public spending watchdog the National Audit Office found that inadequate consultation with potential users was one of a series of fundamental mistakes made by the bureau.

The report's main conclusion was that potential users of a service should be consulted "at the earliest opportunity".

It was not until the Criminal Records Bureau held roadshows in early 2001 to publicise its impending launch that executives and the main IT supplier, Capita, discovered that the fundamental assumptions underpinning the design of systems and processes were wrong.

The bureau delayed the start of its operations by several months - but when it went live in March 2002 systems and processes were unable to cope.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said, "The bureau and its partner, Capita, entirely failed to translate policy objectives into workable operational plans.

"When the going got rough they both started blaming each other. And, while the service has now improved, it is not the one we were promised."

The report's findings may have implications for the £2.3bn national programme for IT in the NHS. In a survey conducted by market researcher Medix, which was commissioned by Computer Weekly and the national programme, 86% of the 1,026 doctors questioned said that consultation about the initiative had been inadequate or non-existent.

The first major systems under the programme are due to go live this summer. The survey showed that there was widespread support for the objectives of the national programme but fewer than 50% of doctors had received any information about it.

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