A report from the Public Accounts Committee into the much-delayed project to build a single IT system to manage offenders in the UK has revealed a laundry list of management blunders.
Unrealistic planning, the failure to monitor the cost or progress of the project, poor structures of accountability and a “good news” culture, contributed to what the PAC describes as “singular example of comprehensively poor project management”.
According to the report, nobody was monitoring either the cost or the progress of the project for the first three years after its 2004 launch, “in part because the first Senior Responsible Owner overseeing the project did not have relevant project experience or training.” The National Offender Management Service cannot explain in detail how it spent £161 million in those first three years.
The C-NOMIS system was first mooted in 2003’s Correctional Services Review, which proposed the integration of prisoner and probation management systems, enabling what it described as ‘end-to-end offender management’.
Originally planned for completion in January 2008 at a total cost of £234 million, the project was halted in August 2007, by which time it had already cost three times the original budget.
Work has now resumed on a less ambitious version of the project, which will consist of three databases and is due to be delivered in 2011.
New Labour’s time in office has been characterised by a number of attempts to unify IT systems that have either failed or gone drastically over time and budget, most notoriously the NHS IT unification scheme. In some cases, these can be used to argue the folly of trying to support many different complex functions with single, monolithic systems.
However, the PAC report into the C-NOMIS project shows that whatever the validity of the vision, the system was essentially undermined by some rather elementary project management errors.