The Scottish government’s audit watchdog, Audit Scotland, has produced a critical report into the failed £46m i6 police system that was at the heart of police reform North of the Border.
There is no single reason why the project failed, Audit Scotland says. But it points an accusing finger at the project’s adoption of the waterfall method of project development and also says that despite an 18-month competitive dialogue process, there was a fundamental disagreement between Police Scotland and Accenture, the winning bidder, about the interpretation of the contract and the scope of the programme. This damaged relationships and trust between the two organisations from a very early stage, the auditor said.
Another key element that has cropped up in numerous IT project disasters was the willingness to rely on an existing system and adapt it for the UK marketplace. Accenture had proposed a project based on an existing system provided to Guardia Civil in Spain.
The report points out that the i6 programme used the waterfall method, where software is developed in distinct phases, each leading to the next phase in a sequence resembling a waterfall.
“Once a phase is complete, the process moves on to the next phase and there is no turning back. It meant that all of the design, coding and construction of i6 would be completed before Accenture released it to Police Scotland for testing. Police Scotland would pay for each phase when it was completed. The waterfall method was common at the time of i6’s origins, though an alternative approach called ‘agile’ was gaining popularity.
“Agile is a more flexible, incremental approach where the team work on small-scale launches of a functioning product. The development team tests each software launch against the user’s requirements throughout the project and, in theory, changes can be made more easily. Recently, more organisations are adopting the agile approach to software development,” the report says.
It wasn’t for lack of will to deliver, the report says. “Both Police Scotland and Accenture were determined to deliver the i6 programme. This may have led to optimism bias and a reluctance to pause or halt the project at an earlier stage. The waterfall approach meant that Police Scotland would not be able to test the system developed by Accenture until relatively late in the development process. There was also over-reliance on the existing system that Accenture had provided to Spain’s Guardia Civil.”
The failure of i6 as a key component of police reform means that some of the benefits that should have arisen from implementing it, have been, at best, delayed, the report says.
“There was a need to modernise police ICT systems six years ago when the procurement of i6 began. That need has not been met. Police officers and staff continue to struggle with out-of-date, inefficient and poorly integrated systems. This also hinders how Police Scotland interacts and shares information and intelligence with the other parts of the justice system. There is an urgent need to determine what the next steps should be, and to carry out an honest assessment of how to procure, develop and deliver the much-needed police IT system.”
Audit Scotland said in May it will publish a report that will summarise the lessons that can be learned from a number of public sector ICT projects.
Breaking down the latest failure, Audit Scotland points out that the process for procuring a supplier for the i6 system followed recommended good practice. This included assembling a programme team from within the police, complemented by external expertise. In June 2013, Accenture was awarded a fixed price contract worth £46.11 million. Within weeks, and despite 18-months of pre-award discussion, Police Scotland and Accenture disagreed about whether the proposed system would deliver the requirements set out in the contract.
This was followed by a period of negotiation, during which Police Scotland and Accenture disagreed over the interpretation of the contract and the requirements of the system. In April 2014, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and Accenture signed a contract variation agreement. However, ultimately this early disagreement contributed to a breakdown in relationships and a loss of trust between Police Scotland and Accenture that never fully recovered.
Audit Scotland says the i6 programme was “complex and highly ambitious. Police Scotland and Accenture originally believed that the majority of the i6 system could be based on an existing IT system that Accenture had delivered elsewhere. This belief was incorrect. As the design and development of i6 progressed, it became apparent that Accenture would need to develop significantly more than had been originally anticipated.
“Despite delays and serious problems throughout the lifetime of the programme, Accenture provided regular assurance, in the face of strong challenge, about their confidence in delivering the i6 system. This assurance proved misplaced.”
It went on, “The method adopted for developing the i6 system meant that the full scale of difficulties facing i6 ultimately became clear in August 2015 when the system was passed to Police Scotland for testing. There were fundamental flaws and serious errors. At this point, Accenture estimated that meeting the requirements of the contract would take an additional two and a half years, with go live being delayed until April 2018, almost four years later than originally planned. After a series of meetings, the SPA and Accenture mutually agreed to terminate the i6 contract.”
The financial arrangement that followed the collapse of the project saw the SPA secure a settlement agreement of £24.65m. This meant that Accenture agreed to refund the £11.09m that the SPA had paid, and to make an additional payment of £13.56m. This reflects estimated staff costs and capital costs such as hardware maintenance and software licences associated with i6.
Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Modern policing faces financial and operational challenges. Given the role that i6 was to play in police reform, there is an urgent need for a frank assessment of Police Scotland’s IT requirements, and how these can be delivered alongside the vision set out in the recent Policing 2026 draft strategy.”
In its response to the report, Scottish Police Authority chief executive John Foley said, “We welcome the independent view of Audit Scotland which highlights that good practice was followed in the planning and procurement of the i6 programme, and that the contractual settlement negotiated by SPA ultimately resulted in no financial detriment to the public purse.
“While policing has no plans to embark again on a single ICT programme as complex and bespoke as i6, there have been a number of improvements made in the last four years that provide greater assurance going forward.
“There is stronger SPA strategic oversight of change programmes, for example on call handling which HMICS has acknowledged as significantly improved. The recent development of a long term strategy for policing will also ensure that operational and service objectives will be more closely aligned to investment priorities and decisions.
“Clearly, there are lessons to learn across the public sector on large ICT projects and we look forward to Audit Scotland’s broader findings in May. Developing effective ICT solutions in transforming corporate services and improving operational productivity are central to our long term strategy, and we will ensure that any further lessons are considered before implementation plans are finalised.”
Responding to the report, Accenture said, “As the report acknowledges, the scope and the complexity of the solution for i6 increased significantly during the project. This was driven by the client. There were challenges and issues on both sides, but we worked closely with Police Scotland to review the programme and recommend revised plans to successfully deliver i6. Despite our best efforts, it was not possible to agree the necessary changes and we mutually agreed to end the project.”