The Scottish government has handed IT consultancy BJSS a fresh £7 million contract without putting the opportunity out to competitive tender, controversially claiming that the company is the “only economic operator that has the technical ability” to proceed with the job.
Disclosure Scotland is executive agency of the Scottish Government. It handles criminal records checks and maintains lists of sex offenders.
It is trying to go “all digital” and migrate off a legacy BT system in a troubled and overdue cloud migration project. (Neither BT nor BJSS would comment on the details of the legacy hardware or other infrastructure.)
The project includes the need to integrate with police databases, upgrade payment systems and more.
Those plans are already delayed and over budget, after BJSS missed an initial deadline to finish the job of August 27, 2018, and Disclosure Scotland was forced to extend BT’s contract at just two days’ notice: a decision that cost Scottish tax payers an additional £4.3 million.
The legacy system is on its last legs, and any system outage resulting from the decision not to renew BT’s contract “might allow unsuitable people unacceptable access to children or to vulnerable adults” Disclosure Scotland’s Chief Executive Lorna Gibbs wrote to the Scottish Children’s Minister in August 2018.
(That letter noted: “The issue is one of timing and the technical capacity of our suppliers BJSS to deliver new software to the schedules they set out.”)
Disclosure Scotland: Only BJSS Has “Technical Ability” to Proceed
Justifying the decision to grant BJSS a seven-month extension, Disclosure Scotland said in a contract award notice published June 5, 2019: “[BJSS is] the only economic operator who [sic] has the technical ability to deliver the functionality needed for the replacement IT system before the current platform is decommissioned in September 2019.”
They note that Disclosure Scotland have been working with BJSS since 2016 and have obtained an ‘in-depth knowledge’ of the requirements and functionality that Disclosure Scotland are expecting for the system.
(An initial public tender for the job with a December 2, 2016 deadline drew 17 applicants. That tender notes that BJSS had already completed an “alpha stage” of the application. That is a chance for contractors to try out different solutions to the problems they learned about during their discovery phase.)
“Competition is Absent for Technical Reasons”
“Competition is therefore absent for technical reasons as the Authority requires on-going technical development and design of this business critical service. This contract awarded is appropriately limited in duration having regard for the urgency and critical nature of the service to allow for a safe and successful transition and mobilisation of the new IT system,” Disclosure Scotland state.
(The notice initially claimed the contract was for £70 million. Questioned by Computer Business Review, Disclosure Scotland blamed a typo and said it was for £7 million).
BJJS won its initial £10 million publicly tendered contract in 2017. BJSS declined to comment to Computer Business Review on this issue.
Disclosure Scotland’s Chief Executive Lorna Gibbs responded to Computer Business Review’s questions commenting: “Disclosure Scotland processes 600k applications a year and prevents unsuitable individuals from working with children and vulnerable adults. As you would expect, we are heavily reliant on our IT systems in order to process this volume of applications in the most effective and efficient way possible.”
“This essential and significant overhaul of our IT system has taken place alongside our everyday use of the previous expensive and outdated system with minimal disruption. The contract for the project has been retendered twice throughout its lifetime, and we have taken legal and procurement advice at every stage to ensure we continue to meet our procurement obligations as a publicly-funded organisation.”
A 2018 letter reveals that, had it been informed earlier that the project would not be ready on time, it could have extended BT’s contract in June 2018 for £2 million, rather than double that cost.
In a heavily redacted section it also points to “robust” meetings with BJSS intended to “repair our confidence”. A year, and £7 million later, work on the project continues.