Thursday, 1 April 2010

FiReControl – a catalogue of poor judgement and mismanagement

No – that title isn’t mine – it’s from Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee Chair Dr Phyllis Starkey when launching the report of an enquiry into the FiReControl project (a programme to replace 46 local fire and rescue service control rooms with nine purpose-built regional control centres).

This will come as no surprise to regular readers who may remember my December 2008 post on this project:

“the project itself smacks of Government’s usual inability to follow best practices when procuring new IT systems….….. it has failed to involve key users in its design early enough, initially imposed a massively optimistic timescale for implementation, and seemingly failed to allow any contingencies in its plans and budgets.”

Yet again Central Government is giving us a lesson on how not to procure and implement new IT projects. Quotes from the evidence presented to the committee include:

“The problem stems again from a lack of user engagement at the early stages of the project.”

“the rush to procurement meant the level of detail in the specification did not reflect what the professional people were saying. That has plagued the project ever since, both in terms of delays and being over-optimistic about how quickly it could
be delivered, how much it was going to cost, and why certain things that were absolutely necessary were never specified and other things were put in that were not needed.”

As I have posted so many times, this is yet another project that has gone wrong before the initial contract was signed. The matter appear to have been compounded by (yet again one of my pet topics) the “adversarial relationship between the customer and contractor”. Central Government must get out of the current ways of procurement of these innovative systems:

  • Government under-defines requirement
  • Suppliers bid knowing that the requirements will change
  • Government awards contract on the basis of price rather than value
  • Government then involves end users who identify substantial changes to requirements
  • (in many cases like this, initial software solution is found not to meet the new requirements)
  • Suppliers use change control procedures to delay the schedule and increase the price of the contract to reflect the additional work required to meet the changes
  • Contractor and Supplier fall out – to the overall detriment of the project

I have great sympathy with both the supplier’s and the CLG’s management staff on this project. They appear to have done the best they can given the framework under which Government procures these types of projects. Although I do wonder what the unsuccessful bidders for the original project said in their proposals – did they point out the likely problems, allow for them in their bids (and get ruled out because of the resulting higher price and/or delayed schedule?).

As I noted in my 2008 posts, we need this project to work – once implemented it should give us one of the best operational systems in the world. The good news is that main contractor EADS has entered into a new subcontract with Intergraph for its well-respected I/CAD product. Intergraph already appears to have stamped its authority and experience on this project and, whilst the lack of fully defined requirements so late in the project gives cause for concern, I have more confidence that they will be able to deliver a working central system than before their appointment.

P.S. You may be interested in some of my other posts on these topics: