In February, I blogged about the problem that the UK government's £400 million plus FiReControl project was having. Reports like this one said that the government admitted to paying £40,000 a day to maintain new regional fire service control centers, which are empty because the technology is not ready. The government also admitted that the project was bungled from the beginning.
At the time, there were various calls to cancel the project, but I noted the likely outcome was to soldier on because canceling the project, which was probably the right thing to do, was politically difficult.
Well, it appears that I was unfortunately correct in my assessment. Last week a new report by the UK Parliament's Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee concluded that:
"In May 2009 the Public Accounts Committee criticised CLG for poor performance in contracting and managing the New Dimension project. CLG responded by asserting that it had learnt lessons and was improving its delivery, citing the FiReControl project. Our inquiry shows that this is not the case."
"The FiReControl project has been inadequately planned, poorly executed, and badly managed. The original contract was ill-suited to the nature of the project. Relationships both with the major stakeholders and with contractual partners have been mishandled. High staff turnover in CLG, especially at a senior level, has compromised the Department's ability to manage the project effectively. Costs have escalated and projected savings plummeted. The history of the project is a catalogue of poor judgement and mismanagement."
"There are now considerable doubts about whether the project can be delivered."
However - wait for it:
"On balance, given the investment of public funds already committed, and the benefits that will accrue, we conclude that CLG should press ahead with the FiReControl project."
In for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes.
To be fair, the Committee did add to the above this qualifier: "However, this recommendation is conditional on the assumption that CLG addresses the significant concerns and issues raised in this Report relating to its project management and the relationship with its main contractor and with its stakeholders. In particular, it is conditional on the urgent agreement of a viable project plan, in which the main stakeholders can have confidence, which will ensure that the target 'go-live' date of mid-2011 will be met. This project plan must include interim milestones which will allow progress to be assessed on a regular basis and decisions to be taken about whether alternatives need to be considered."
The Committee made no judgment about the reasonableness of its assumption, which if you read the whole report, you would give a less than a 5% chance of the condition ever being able to be met.
Which is why I suppose that, according to this BBC story, the Fire Brigades Union is saying that the FiReControl program should be scrapped, and that continuing it is just "throwing good money after bad."
Yes it is, but as I said earlier, that is far less painful politically than shutting the whole thing down.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.