UK IT Project Loses Track of $240 million


Last month, the UK National Audit Office (NAO) published a damning report on the Home Officeâ''s National Offender Management Information System (C-NOMIS) which Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, called in a London Telegraph story a "spectacular failure."

In case his point was missed, Leigh added that, "What they delivered was a master class in sloppy project management. Following blunder after blunder by senior managers, the programme clocked up delays of three years and forecast costs have trebled."

As described in the NAO report, C-NOMIS was intended to provide a single offender-management IT system to support both prisons and probation. The project was originally estimated to cost £234 million and to have been operational in January 2008.

However, by July 2007, £155 million had been spent, C-NOMIS was two years behind schedule and estimated lifetime project costs had risen to £690 million. The Minister of State imposed a moratorium while options for reducing the project cost were sought.

In January 2008, C-NOMIS was rescoped with a new cost estimate of £513 million and a scheduled completion date of March 2011.

The NAO said in its C-NOMIS report that among other things:

* There was inadequate oversight by senior management.

* The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) did not put the appropriate resources and structures in place to deliver such a complex project.

* Programme management was poor in key aspects, including planning, financial monitoring and change control.

* NOMS significantly underestimated the technical complexity of the project.

* NOMS underestimated the need to invest in business change alongside the IT system.

* NOMSâ'' contractual arrangements with its key suppliers were weak and its supplier management poor.

In this week's ComputerWeekly, Tony Collins pointed out that in the back of the NAO report was the statement, "At the end of October 2007, £161 million had been spent on the project overall. We have not been able to ascertain precisely what this money was spent on because NOMS did not record expenditure against workstream before July 2007, but we believe most was spent on developing the C-NOMIS application and testing it in prisons."

That's a pretty good trick - spend £161 million on an IT project and leave no trace.

Well, one group that has to be happy with the NAO report is the UK Ministry of Defense and those inside it responsible for the Chinook helicopter program disaster. Edward Leigh last year had described that program as of â''one of the most incompetent procurements of all time."

However, Leigh now says that on top of being a master class in sloppy management, "the litany of failings in this case [C-NOMIS] are in a class all of their own [in which management repeated] kindergarten mistakes."

I guess this now means that the C-NOMIS program has replaced the Chinook program atop the league table of most incompetent UK government procurements.

The King is dead. Long live the King!


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City