UK FiReControl IT Project One of the Worst Ever?

Last December, I blogged about the demise of the United Kingdom's FiReControl project, which was meant to integrate 46 stand-alone fire department control rooms into 9 regional centers. The project was originally initiated in March 2004 and slated to be completed by November of 2007. The government promised at its initiation that it would use "tried and tested" technology to ensure that a rapid (and cost-contained) implementation would ensue.

That didn't happen, as costs exploded from the original project estimate of £100 million to an estimated £423 million, with a rollout set to begin in 2011 and completed by the end of 2012.

Late last week, the National Audit Office (NAO) released its final report on the fiasco, labeling the FiReControl project in its press release a "comprehensive failure." The report says that even though the project was canceled last year after £245 million had been spent on the effort, it will cost a minimum of another £224 million (and maybe as much as £404 million) before all is said in done!

One of the major reasons for the additional costs is that except for one of the regional fire control centers that will be used by the London Fire Brigade, the other eight centers are empty and are likely to remain so. The minimum rental, maintenance, and utilities costs for these eight centers are estimated to be more than £200 million over the next 24 years, the length of the leases the Department for Communities and Local Government signed with various property companies during the project. The London Daily Mail pegs the total running costs of these centers at about £50,000 a day.

By the way, the NAO says it would have in fact cost a total of £635 million to complete the project, not the £423 million given as the estimate last year before the project was finally canceled. Even that estimate is probably low.

The NAO gave a familiar-sounding summary as to why the project failed:

The FiReControl project was flawed from the outset because it did not have the support of those essential to its success—local fire and rescue services. The Department [for Communities and Local Government] tried to impose a national control system without having sufficient mandatory powers and without properly consulting with the fire and rescue services. These local bodies prize their distinctiveness and the freedom they have to choose their own equipment.

The department rushed the start of the project, failing to follow proper procedures. Ineffective checks and balances during initiation and early stages meant the department committed itself to the project on the basis of broad-brush and inaccurate estimates of costs and benefits and an unrealistic delivery timetable and agreed to an inadequate contract with its IT supplier. The department underappreciated the project's complexity and then mismanaged the IT contractor's performance and delivery. The department failed to provide the necessary leadership to make the project successful, overrelying on poorly managed consultants and failing to sort out early problems with delivery by the contractor.

Some £469 million spent—or about US $750 million—with nothing to show for it. FiReControl even makes the New York City CityTime project look good.

Today, UK fire minister Bob Neil announced that in the wake of the demise of the FiReControl project,  "£81 million will be made available to England's fire and rescue authorities to help them develop their own solutions for improving resilience and efficiency."

This total should probably be added to the final FiReControl project tab as well.

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