Failure to understand IT was one of the core reasons for what the Public Accounts Committee has called "one of the worst cases of project failure in many years".
FireControl – the attempt to rationalise 45 fire service control rooms into nine regional control centres – was cancelled in December 2010 after six years and the loss of £469m with none of its goals achieved and eight of the new centres lying empty.
The Department for Communities and Local Government left decisions on the IT and staff training side of the project too late, said the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Report, leaving employees confused and the project out of sync. The first building was three months from completion when the IT provider was finally appointed.
Other serious mistakes included the failure to adequately supervise the project, a heavy reliance on consultants and rushing the project through before allowing for adequate costing and checks.
In the report, criticism was leveled at department officials for awarding the £200m IT contract to EADS Defence & Security Systems – a defence company without any background in providing emergency services:
The Department awarded the IT contract to a company with no direct experience of supplying the emergency services and who mostly relied on sub-contractors over which the Department had no visibility or control.
The design of the contract was also lambasted:
The poorly designed IT contract lacked early milestones or mechanisms to effectively manage prime or sub-contractor performance. The Department allowed the contractor to deviate from the agreed approach, and when problems did emerge, it did not take timely corrective action.
And the commissioning department seriously underestimated the human management issues involved in training staff to use the new technology.
The Department mistakenly assumed that the delivery of the IT system would be straightforward and could be developed through a standardised off-the-shelf product.
In fact, the technology was very complex, requiring 46 local fire services to standardise the way they operated. The failure to deliver the technology in an acceptable timeframe was the reason for the project’s termination.
The project has been officially cancelled, but local fire services are receiving a further £83m to achieve some of the goals of standardisation set out in 2004.
The full report is available on the Public Accounts Committee Website. ®