blog If you’ve been following state government IT in Australia for as long as I have, it starts to get easier and easier to see major IT project failures before they even happen. And NSW Police just popped up a doozy.
Those of you with some familiarity with how the NSW Police functions will know that for most of the past seventeen years, much of its core policing work has been been done with the aid of a text-only data entry and retrieval system dubbed ‘COPS’, which is a typical police database system in that it allows officers to enter and retrieve information about crimes, suspects etc. Every modern police force has one of these systems, and usually there are many satellite links into such platforms so that associated systems can pull data out.
The COPS system in use by the NSW Police is particularly ancient, dating back about 15 years. We know this because in September 2011, the agency noted that it (with the assistance of Fujitsu) had completed a major upgrade to the then 15-year-old platform that had layered a web-based interface on top of the system. The COPS platform is drastically simpler, but you could draw an analogy with the way modern banks tend to work, where their Internet banking platforms accesses by consumers are layered on top of multiple systems, underneath which often sits an archaic core banking platform dating back decades.
Dubbed ‘WebCOPS’, the Fujitsu upgrade has provided a much-needed lease of life to the COPS platform. But as with those tricky core banking platforms, it appears as though the database itself still needs to be upgraded or replaced. It appears that the NSW Government has this week approved funding for that project as part of its budget. Intermedium tells us (we recommend you click here for the full article):
“In 2013-14 the NSW Police Force will embark upon a $44.8 million technical migration of its Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) to a modern database, to be completed by 2016.”
Now, why is this a problem? It’s a problem because the replacement of these kinds of platforms has proven a major, major problem for other states. Take Victoria, for example. The state’s own police force has a virtually identical core policing system to NSW’s. It’s dubbed LEAP, and Victoria has been trying to replace it for quite a few years now. It’s also close to several decades old.
However, various attempts at this effort have been aborted, with one landmark investigation into Victoria Police finding in March 2012 that the agency had no ability to delivery major IT projects. “Victoria Police spent $59 million on LINK over four years, only for it to be cancelled,” the Victorian Ombudsman wrote in a separate report in November 2011. Seems like an eerily similar amount of money to the amount which NSW wants to spend on replacing COPS.
I’m not quite sure what’s happening with LEAP right now in Victoria, but I’m sure there have been yet more plans put forward to remediate the situation, on which millions have already been spent and years of time been wasted.
Look, what am I trying to say here? In general, what I am trying to say is that we are seeing a massive, systemic, degree of IT project and service delivery failure across several Australian states right now — especially Queensland and Victoria, but also to a degree in NSW. We haven’t seen any large IT projects successfully delivered in NSW for some time.
In this context, and with the direct experience of the LEAP/LINK project failure in Victoria, the COPS replacement program in NSW must be regarded as extremely high-risk. It may be that this is only a first small step which has been budgeted this week in NSW, and that NSW Police is aware of the dangers they are tinkering with here; that they have a very conservative, long-term plan. I have to say I doubt that, given that NSW Police doesn’t even appear to be capable of auditing how many software licences it’s using.
If this what it appears to be — a total replacement of the underlying COPS infrastructure for the paltry cost of $44.8 million, over a period of just a couple of years, then I would have to say I predict that the project will not be delivered for that amount, that it will not be delivered on time, that it may fail, and that NSW Police may end up in protracted legal disputes with whichever partners they are getting to help them implement this project. If this is what it appears to be, then my opinion is that NSW Police has seriously underestimated what it will take to replace COPS.
This cannot be treated as a normal IT project, within normal IT parameters. Nothing about state government IT in Australia is normal right now. The norm is that every major project is going over budget, over time, and sometimes just failing completely. And especially so, when we’re talking about core platforms which are almost two decades old. I hate to be the one to say it: But all the warnings signs are here for another state government IT disaster, 4-5 years in the future. Am I wrong? Ill-informed? Happy to hear why. I’d rather discuss this now than be writing another article about a damning state government ICT audit report into a failed IT project, which is what I normally do.
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