Good Governance - Effective use of IT

Written evidence submitted by Rupert Collins-White (IT 29)


The courts service in England and Wales is currently ill-served by the IT procurement behaviour of the MoJ and HMCS, because both the department and its agency fail to effectively deliver, or seemingly even consider important, value for money, project accountability, procurement transparency or effective oversight beyond the level of individual projects.

Contracts and contractual arrangements with the ministry's primary supplier are such that it pays the supplier (currently Logica):

to carry on maintaining legacy IT systems rather than replacing them

to expend more money rather than less - more expensive systems pay the primary IT supplier more in commission than cheaper systems

The only way 'past' the 'lock in' created by this contractual situation is for HMCS or other areas of MoJ to attempt to procure or develop systems below a low initial threshold of spend. However, what this encourages is a lack of transparency, an absence of transparency in spend, minimal oversight, and usually an end cost that exceeds a spend amount that would have forced the project into the responsibility of the IT supplier in the first place - in other words a situation no more accountable or conscious of value for money than its alternative.

1 E-Working - electronic filing and document management for the commercial courts

An integrated case management system has been used in the Commercial Court since 2005 where it has, it seems, been reliable and popular with courts staff. It is a solution called InterCOMM by a UK business called Visionhall.

However, this project was dropped as a system for electronic filling, document management and listing (despite an internal assessment approving it as viable) in favour of a more expensive system developed internally by HMCS (and contractor staff) - eWorking.

E-Working is significantly over-budget, is more than a year overdue, is unpopular to the extent of being almost unused by the commercial law firms it must garner as users, and will offer less functionality to the users than alternative systems that could have been considered and, worse, were already ‘in play’.

Though eWorking is a system ostensibly developed ‘in-house’, HMCS relies on an arrangement for court forms creation and systems infrastructure with a major corporate entity (Adobe), but has refused in every arena to outline how much public money may need to be spent going forward with Adobe, exactly how much has already been spent, what commercial contractual relationship has been made and, if the project were to rolled out on a national scale (something HMCS previously would not comment on either way and now has said, through a representative, will not occur) what amount HMCS would be required to pay to Adobe.

What this means: HMCS/MoJ have, in eWorking, once more ‘reinvented the wheel’ by creating a functionally identical system to Visionhall’s ‘in play’ system, and to the system ‘in play’ at the Supreme Court - and not functionally dissimilar to a slew of case management systems also ‘in play’ within the justice system. This has cost roughly £6-10m depending on which numbers one believes.

This is indicative of a problem endemic with the justice system’s IT procurement - other cases that evidence this problem include the reported ‘reinvention of the wheel’ by creating a new courts IT system for the Supreme Court.

eWorking was the subject of a recent survey of commercial litigation-focused court users, carried out by the Commercial Litigation Association, in which 13 out 20 people who had used the system said their experience of eWorking was "bad" or "very bad".

The survey also asked some open questions, one of which was "what disadvantages over traditional paper working" respondents saw. Quotes returned included: "The new system simply does not work for our purposes", "the original e-filing pilot scheme [i.e. CCIT] was much easier" and " The forms are not rule compliant. The form design is very poor and the use of Adobe smart forms has over-complicated what should be a simple process".

This is the result of several years work and up to £10m spent - when a system already existed that was delivering, or HMCS had admitted could (relatively easily) deliver those goals.

2 ‘Reinventing the wheel’ in justice IT

The courts agency in England and Wales has systematically failed to deliver a ‘joined-up’, value for money IT project management approach or results of same over the last five to seven years when it comes to IT systems for the courts.

HMCS/MoJ have spent between £7-15 million (possibly as much as £20 million) developing and implementing IT systems to deliver the basics of what is called "electronic filing and document management", without actually delivering this outcome (the Supreme Court’s IT system is an example of reinventing the wheel and does not serve a commercial court, so is separated here).

Each EFDM solution developed/delivered within the HMCS area has been an example of a new system created where an solution already exists. HMCS/MoJ have seemingly not cared that a solution in one arena (eg, Supreme Court) could be used in another. Instead, HMCS/MoJ have allowed money to be spent creating functionally identical systems for each new court project it embarks on, sometimes doing this more than once for the same court.

This is best evinced by HMCS/MoJ’s behaviour in creating new systems one after the other for the commercial courts, in which it developed a Visionhall solution (CCIT pilot), then spent considerable time working up a separate (and only theoretical) EFDM (electronic filing and document management) solution, then developed almost concurrently a case management solution for the Supreme Court using a commercial solution from Open Text that cost £1m to adjust, to eWorking - which is based upon a completely different set of technologies, the cost of which is opaque even to FoI and face-to-face enquiries.

Over the past four years I’ve uncovered evidence, from primary sources and through FoI requests, proving the HMCS/MoJ have:

failed to carry out proper or even partial cost/benefit assessments/tenders when seeking to buy systems from external vendors

failed to ensure primary IT suppliers to the justice system do same

paid far more than necessary for systems provided

failed to properly assess whether lightly-tailored commercial off-the-shelf systems would fit needs, rather than systems created using lots of internal contractor time

through poor contract writing and negotiation allowed a situation to persist in which a tiny number of large businesses essentially rotate their status as primary IT suppliers, creating a de facto cartel

failed to be open about methodology, to extent of obfuscation and behaviour in dealings with the press that would seem to be in contravention with FOI law

failed to give enough weight to analysis of whether open-source software could meet HMG’s needs, despite a wealth of evidence from continental Europe that it could

consistently behaved in an opaque way in disbursing public funds on IT development

3 Contractual failures

Fundamentally almost all MoJ/HMCS problems in IT procurement stem from a failure to properly negotiate with IT suppliers from a position of power, which the ministry should be in but, in reality, it fails to use to its advantage.

The contract between Logica and MoJ means that Logica gains a percentage on work undertaken and solutions bought. This creates an inevitable bias on the part of the IT supplier to favour more expensive solutions over cheaper ones, and to do work rather than not do work.

I can substantiate this through FOI answers I’ve received in relation to the procurement of the Supreme Court IT system, and the committee can read the results of this as a story published in the Private Eye (issue 8th January 2010, I think) and in the text of a story published by the Law Society Gazette (14th January 2010), currently suppressed by an aggressive libel action by Open Text (both stories were written by me). I’ve attached a copy of the Gazette story as supplementary material. Obviously this cannot be published without considering the libel action against the Law Society Gazette.

4 Failure to examine the value of ‘commercial off-the-shelf solutions’ (COTS)

Where COTS are available MoJ/HMCS shun them via the MoJ’s primary IT supplier, because it pays the primary IT supplier to purchase more systems, and more expensive systems - see point (3) for the reasons and evidence of this.

This has the side-effect of denying access to the (justice side of the) government IT procurement process to SME businesses in the UK. I would posit that it is likely that this situation persists in many other areas of government.

SME businesses are deemed by the MoJ’s primary IT supplier as being ‘too small to use’ - whereas in other countries in Europe, for example, relatively lightly adjusted open source systems developed by SMEs in conjunction with agencies/departments/courts are the norm, and do not cost a vast amount (see point 9).

5 Co-ordination of technology policy

There appears to be no real evidence of a coherent technology policy within HMCS or even MoJ.

EFDM is a prime example of this. EFDM as a project was cancelled in 2008/9 after around £5m had been spent (see http :// www . lawgazette . co . uk / news / more - delays - court - it - roll - out ), which had produced no solution whatsoever, and failed to outline any real reason why the working solution in place at the time (Visionhall’s solution developed in the CCIT pilot project) should not be further developed.

Before then a PQQ had been issued to prospective bidders, which stated:

"The MoJ strategic preference for the delivery of IT solutions is to "buy not build" and the re-use of existing components and services, or Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) products, (integrated and configured as necessary to meet the business and technical requirements) is therefore the preferred approach for EFDM."

However, as can be seen from points 1-4 and the background supplied herein, eWorking, as a ‘successor’ to EFDM, broke all these rules.

(Though the Supreme Court case management system was developed from a COTS, as you can see from the Private Eye and Gazette stories provided as evidence in point 3, when the MoJ has tried to follow these rules it is unable to bring the projects to fruition without incurring higher than necessary costs.)

Prior to e-Working, HMCS commissioned an operational review of the Royal Courts of Justice by David Ryan CBE. The report recommended that the 28 different case management systems in use within the RCJ should be consolidated and that no new systems should be developed. However, both the eWorking project and the Supreme Court’s case management system stand as testament that this directive was ignored.

6 Governance in IT procurement in the courts

For the eWorking project, governance/oversight has been almost non-existent.

The project commenced in October 2008 with a £2.2 million pilot in the Commercial Court.

In February 2009 a further £4.7 million was allocated to roll out eWorking to three other courts. The new budget was approved based upon the success of the pilot that had not yet been completed therefore no results were known.

User acceptance testing (UAT) was carried out by the development tea mrather than the users.

The ‘lessons learned’ exercise was allegedly officiated by the project manager and there was no opportunity to review.

The project was developed by HMCS using a team entirely composed of external contractors. There was therefore not the usual rigour of a supplier contract with a scope of work, penalty clauses etc. Since the HMCS project manager was also part of the development team, the usual check and balances did not exist.

7 Lessons from NAO and OGC reviews about unsuccessful IT programmes

The NAO recommendations appear to have been overlooked with regard to eWorking.

ensuring senior level engagement - The RCJ directorate allegedly expressed a preference for the Commercial Court IT (CCIT) system, but were allegedly told there was no money for anything except for eWorking, as this was to be developed underneath the ‘cap’ of money for passing on projects to Logica - it has however cost significantly more (by a factor of 10, possibly) than extending the CCIT project would have.

acting as an intelligent client - as stated previously, the eWorking project was developed by MoJ contractors, who were managed by MoJ contractors. The contractors were able to make a succession of exaggerated claims about their system and their ability to deliver in a very persuasive manner. There appears to be no-one within the MoJ able to change the direction of the project.

realising the benefits of change - Though HMCS and MoJ seem to be embracing change, this is happening for its own sake, and is costing far more than effective development of existing systems would have. eWorking has already cost up to £12 million - despite HMCS claims to the contrary - equivalent to £60,000 per user. If the system were to be rolled out nation-wide then perhaps a vastly reduced cost-per-user price could be achieved, but the RCJ staffer in charge stated at a recent Commercial Litigation Association Network conference that extending eWorking beyond the commercial courts was not intended. It is alleged by sources that the system will cost an estimated £2m a year to support.

8 In answer to: "How will public sector IT adapt to the new ‘age of austerity’?"

Ministry of Justice IT needs to be far more aware of value for money in its IT procurement behaviour, and should look to other countries (see point 9) for good examples of how to deliver functional, useful justice system IT within ‘reasonable’ cost parameters.

MoJ must learn to focus on delivering services that offer real benefits, as soon as possible. It has for too long constantly aimed at a kind of long-term IT plan that may offer some theoretical savings at some unknown time in the future - which instead means courts systems that are needed in the present are developed piecemeal and without direction, and that legacy systems are not retired while decisions on future systems are constantly delayed.

The MoJ running many legacy systems, some of which have their origins in the mid 1980’s. Those systems cost are very expensive to maintain and do not offer the features of a new modern solution. New solutions are significantly more reliable and cheaper to operate. New systems can often be purchased on a pay-per-use basis, with no initial capital outlay.

There are many good examples of the business sector moving to ‘software as a service’ deliver methods for IT systems, and commercial off-the-shelf IT systems now exist to provide government with innovate pricing and flexible implementation that do not require expensive in-house development from scratch.

9 In answer to: "How well does the UK compare to other countries with regard to government procurement and application of IT systems?"

In terms of justice IT, procurement in the UK seems almost entirely decided upon the choice of development tools used to create a solution, rather than the functionality offered.

Many European governments have implemented innovative justice IT solutions for a fraction of the cost HMCS/MoJ have spent (often not even to deliver a working solution, such as in the case of eWorking) - examples would include systems delivered in Germany, Austria and at the European Court of Human Rights.

The Dubai International Financial Centre ( DIFC ) Courts also recently implemented a version of the solution developed by Visionhall (InterCOMM) and still in use in the commercial courts (CCIT project).

http :// www . lawgazette . co . uk / blogs / in - business - blog / why - are - we - behind - dubai - courts - it

These are just some examples of the many that could be presented.

10 Summary of this submission

MoJ/HMCS are currently wasting money building a system called e-Working for the courts - eWorking has been rejected by court users and is currently barely used, and does not function as required despite millions of pounds in investment.

MoJ/HMCS are ‘reinventing the wheel’ - they have delivered/developed several functionally similar/identical solutions across various court environments without heed to this replication and its concomitant cost.

There is little to no proper, ‘intelligent’ oversight of HCMS/MOJ IT procurement.

The primary IT suppliers to MoJ/HMCS are, because of the nature of their contractual arrangements, ‘encouraged’ to choose expensive, new solutions over extending cheaper/existing ones. It is my opinion that these contracts have created a de facto cartel in terms of provision and pricing.

MoJ/HMCS’ vague will to develop a future all-encompassing courts IT system, that has never got off the ground, has also created a situation in which MOJ is still paying for solutions to be run and maintained alongside newer systems fulfilling the same function.

January 2011