Headlines: April 26th, 2001

The National Audit Office post mortem on the inability of the Probation Service to deliver a reliable computer system reveals that a lack of leadership was the primary cause of failure. During the seven year life of the project there were seven project managers. A key element of the guidance on the development of large IT systems issued last year is that a senior responsible owner should take total responsibility and the NAO report shows that this advice came much too late to save the development from disaster.Another feature of the new guidance is that major projects should be subject to strict tests along the development path before being allowed to pass through the gateway to the next stage. If this requirement had been in force it is unlikely that the project would have passed through many gateways. .

The report reveals that poor specification of expected outputs, weaknesses in service monitoring and inadequate control of purchases led to costs rising 70 per cent above the budget. Technical risks associated with the development were underestimated and the systems did not keep pace with the changing business needs of the Probation Service. A major weakness was that it did not provide direct access to data on offenders held by other areas. As result of this and other failures, some three quarters of the Probation Service did not use the system.

A National Probation Service, led by a Director was set up from April this year and the number of areas, each managed by a Chief Probation Office, reduced from 54 to 42. The report offers advice to the new service on the development of a new IT strategy.