Justice ministry database ‘a master class in sloppy project management’

The rollout of the £234 million National Offender Management system has been described by MPs as a “master class in sloppy project management” after costs doubled.

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The rollout of the £234 million National Offender Management system, known as C-NOMIS and run by the Ministry of Justice, has been described by MPs as a “master class in sloppy project management” after costs doubled.

A catalogue of mistakes meant the C-Nomis roll out was a “spectacular failure” and was affected by seven of the eight most common causes of project failure, according to a damaging report by the National Audit Office.

The C-Nomis project began in 2004 with the aim of creating a single management system to be used by both the prison and probation services in England and Wales to follow offenders "end to end" through the criminal justice system. The goal was to save money, but the project had failed to deliver the savings, the NAO said in its ‘National Offender Management Information System’ report.

Instead, the project, which would be three years late, was reduced in scope and doubled in costs. By July 2007, the project was two years behind schedule and its estimated costs had spiralled and are now estimated at £690 million, the NAO report found.

Spending had soared so much that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had called a halt to the project while cost control was reassessed.

In January last year, the MoJ abandoned plans for a single shared database and began work on a re-scoped programme for five separate smaller IT projects with a delivery date of March 2011. The estimated lifetime cost for the re-scoped project is £513 million, the watchdog said, three years late. Rollout will begin next month.

Three databases are now in use, compared to the astonishing 220 at the start of the project, but this remained short of the single database target, the NAO noted.

The causes of failure were “inadequate” project management, an underestimation of the complexity, a lack of budget monitoring, poor change control, and weak supplier contracts that did not allow the MoJ to put pressure on the IT firms involved.

"Roles and responsibilities were blurred, in particular financial accountability was unclear, and insufficient skilled resource was applied to the project," the report said.

The report laid the blame for project management failures principally with the government, rather than suppliers EDS and Syscon.

Richard Bacon, a member of the public accounts committee which - like the NAO - audits government spending, said the failures were systemic. They were representative of the handling of IT projects across government departments, and “go much deeper than one badly botched project”, he said.

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