Web passports system canned as costs soar

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has cancelled an over-complicated replacement online passport applications system after rising costs and glitches, which led to about 5,000 applications becoming stuck in the system.

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has cancelled an over-complicated replacement online passport applications system after rising costs and glitches, which led to about 5,000 applications becoming stuck in the system.

The IPS told Computer Weekly that it has written off £10.9m in development costs because of the cancellation of the Electronic Passport Application system EPA2.

When the system went live in 2006, passport applications became jammed in the system and performance slowed to the point where a backlog of 5,000 applications built up. The IPS withdrew EPA2 and has decided against relaunching it.

The IPS has reverted to using the older EPA1. Compared with EPA2, if it were functioning correctly, EPA1 has no facility for paying online, is much slower because applications can take up to four weeks, and it requires paperwork with applicants to be exchanged in the post.

An IPS spokesman said, "After careful evaluation of technical and commercial considerations, the IPS management board decided to ­­cancel the project.

"The costs of the simplified system, and IPS's inability to recover its investment before new systems became available meant that further investment was not justified."

The IPS has also owned up to what went wrong on two other major IT projects last year. In a break from normal government practice, the IPS has published the lessons.

Bernard Herdan, executive director for service planning and delivery, said he wants others to avoid similar mistakes.

This month the IPS completes the roll-out of IT systems for 68 offices it has set up to interview first-time applicants for passports - the Authentication By Interview project.

Herdan said the IPS was over-optimistic about how quickly the IT could be rolled out. The start of the roll-out was delayed by about six months - and there were difficulties synchronising the hiring of 600 staff to interview applicants with the roll-out of IT to support them.

But the IPS had successes with three large projects last year. It began the annual reporting of lessons from its projects and programmes in 2007 in response to a call by Computer Weekly that it, and other departments, should do so.

Its openness and experience has earned the IPS the respect of other departments - in 2007 it won a civil service award for the Best Project and Programme Management across government.

Joe Harley, CIO at the Department for Work and Pensions, said in 2007 that only about 30% of projects and programmes are successful.

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