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Key pillar in the UK's border control upgrade programme 'lacks a systems integrator'

Home Office IT units confused over who is fulfilling the vital role

The UK government's ePassport airport gate upgrade programme has no system integrator, a hardware supplier has said, while the Home Office and two of its IT units seem confused about who should be fulfilling the critical role.

Various agencies were also at loggerheads over whether to include management reporting in the Windows-based upgrade, according to an Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) report [PDF] this week.

The Home Office expects to spend £311m building systems in its Digital Services at the Border programme between 2014-15 to 2021-22 [PDF], including an upgrade to 298 automated eGates to allow them to link to new systems built to secure UK borders and remove their reliance on legacy data systems.

But according to the report, the tech agencies charged with managing the rollout could not agree on who does the systems integrator job.

The problem was raised by supplier Vision-Box, which has built a Windows 10-based gates management platform called the Orchestra Services Platform (OSP) and provides hardware for the gates.

According to the report, Vision-Box told inspectors that "from a supplier delivery perspective, the structure is missing the 'System Integration' key function to assure the performance and the effectiveness of the solution."

It was not the only one scratching its head about who was filling the systems integrator shoes.

"There also seemed to be some confusion within the Home Office over which business area would perform this role," the report said.

Part of the UK Border Force within the Home Office, the Digital Passenger Services team (DPS) believed the Home Office's Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) team would be the systems integrator on the project, "noting that it aligned to the new model the Home Office was seeking to implement in which one supplier was not in a dominant system integration role and that work was brought 'in-house'."

But the DDaT "were unsure what Vision-Box were referring to and did not agree with their view," the report said.

Meanwhile, the Home Office's own commercial staff said they thought that DPS were the SIs on the project as "the structure to deliver the upgrade was the same structure used to deploy the original gates and Vision-Box 'should be familiar with it'."

In July 2020, the Home Office told inspectors that it planned to roll out the new gate platform to the first adopter site, Gatwick South, in the first quarter of 2021 and complete rollout to all gate locations by the final quarter of 2021.

It is not just a technical upgrade. The new system is necessary to connect eGates to Border Crossing, a new system that holds records on "people of interest" to border agencies and is itself delayed and overbudget. It replaces Warnings Index, a 26-year-old system supported by Fujitsu until 30 April 2022.

Confusion also reigned about whether the new gate platform would include management reporting.

The DDaT highlighted to inspectors the new features that the OSP could provide, including "the ability to provide real time reporting… which would be extremely useful to both DDaT and Border Force staff at ports."

But the DDaT later said the DPS had decided not to include management information in the upgrade although they "were hopeful that this would change with time."

In response, a DPS senior manager said that real-time reporting was not included in the scope of the upgrade, which had been agreed over two years earlier.

"This appeared to reflect a disconnect between the two business areas responsible for the roll out and management of the upgraded system," the inspector's report said.

The Home Office has responded to the inspector's report. It is rolling out a new IT platform, "Ocelot", for Border Force staff working at gates while also developing a new IT system to replace the current complaints management system, it said.

A spokesperson told The Register:

“We welcome this report, and are pleased that the ICIBI recognised the positive effect the ePassport Gates have had at ports by improving passenger flow whilst maintaining border security.

“The ePassport Gate roll-out to the new platform was completed last year, and we are committed to making further improvements. ePassport Gate technology continues to be part of the overall strategy to make our border as efficient, smart, and responsive as possible.” ®

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