news The long-running battle between enterprise IT vendor Micro Focus and NSW Police over the force’s allegedly illegitimate use of millions of dollars worth of software hit headlines again this week, with the broadcast of a significant investigation into the matter by the ABC’s flagship current affairs show 7:30.
The case first kicked off almost two years ago, when Micro Focus, which specialises in software assisting organisations to continue to use or integrate their legacy platforms with more modern systems, discovered what it has since said was extensive illegal use of its ViewNow software within the operations of the NSW Police, with some 16,000 copies of the software being used, despite the organisation only holding licences for up to 6,500 copies. Since that time, Micro Focus has settled the case with several other NSW Government agencies, including the NSW Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission, but it continues to be enmeshed in litigation with NSW Police over the matter.
In an extensive investigation into the case broadcast by 7:30 this week, Micro Focus alleged that NSW Police had been pirating its software for more than a decade, and had, since the issue was discovered in 2010, been attempting to remove the ViewNow software from its system. Micro Focus alleged that the organisation had — somewhat ironically — been attempting to replace ViewNow with similarly pirated copies of another Micro Focus product — a NetManage Applet.
The software vendor is suing NSW Police for at least $10 million. NSW Police has denied the claims and is contesting the lawsuit. It has not spoken substantially in the press to make its case in response to Micro Focus’s claims. The issue has begun to attract international attention, with sites like TorrentFreak highlighting the case as evidence of hypocrisy amongst law enforcement authorities when it comes to the enforcement of intellectual property rights. Watch the ABC’s broadcast of the story here:
It’s not the first time NSW Police has been in the spotlight for poor technology management practices. In an audit published in February this year (PDF), the NSW Auditor-General found that the organisation was not managing IT contracts well, and usually treated contract extensions or renewals “simply as continuing previous contractual arrangements, rather than as establishing a new contract and financial commitment”. Consequently, NSW Police was not analysing its needs or the services it was being provided with in a robust fashion.
The organisation only upgraded its central crime database, the so-called Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) from a Microsoft DOS platform to a web-based system in September last year. The Micro Focus software was being used to provide access to COPS, a legacy platform. In addition, there are other signs that NSW Police is running legacy systems in other areas. In December 2010 ZDNet.com.au reported that the organisation was considering upgrading its SAP R/3 payroll/HR platform from version 4.7 — which was first released in late 2003.
Other state police organisations have also been suffering similar problems.
In March this year, Victoria’s State Services Authority published a broad-based investigation of the Victorian police force, finding that the organisation had no ability to deliver major IT projects. In particular, Victoria Police has been under heavy criticism over the past year or so regarding its inability to modernise its equivalent of the COPS system.
The report titled ‘Inquiry into the command, management and functions of the senior structure of Victoria Police’ found ‘project fatigue’ amongst both sworn police and public servants. The inquiry found a number of projects, reports and reviews since 2005 that referred to a ‘vision’, a ‘long-term strategy’ and the need to ‘modernise’ to bring “Victoria Police to the 21st Century”. The management documentation jargon however, did not have any connection to the practical reality at Victoria Police, according to the report.
I’ve been saying for some time now that State Government IT is fundamentally broken, and there can be no better example of this than in the state police forces.
Right around the country, Australia’s state police organisations are grappling with arcane and dated technology platforms which do provide them with the essential ability to do their job, but appear virtually impossible to upgrade, modernise or sometimes integrate with other systems.
At the same time, they are also suffering with that classic problem of state government IT: A lack of governance and project management discipline. This, combined with a general lack of vision when it comes to long-term technology projects and even a shortage of funding in many cases, means that the police organisations often find it hard to define what direction they should be moving in when it comes to technology – let alone actually taking steps in the right direction or following through with successful projects.
And when it comes to policing, IT concepts such as ‘downtime’ have no place in the real world. When you consider how important systems such as COPS are to law enforcement, you start to realise just how hard it is to even consider upgrading them. If the basic functionality works and is stable, few public servants would be brave enough to consider implementing a replacement, even if the old system is based on MS DOS.
We live in a time when state government auditors are producing reports stating that not one, not a few, but virtually every major IT project in existence are delivered late and over budget, or often simply not delivered at all. In this context, in no way do I find it hard to believe that NSW Police hasn’t been telling Micro Focus about a few thousand extra licences being used. In fact, I suspect this sort of thing is probably commonplace in state government agencies right around Australia.
Australia’s State Governments cannot secure their technology infrastructure. They cannot successfully deliver major IT projects. Why is anyone surprised that they’re not managing their enterprise licences correctly?