UK Border Agency criticised over key IT project delay

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been criticised over its delay in delivering a key IT project that is supposed to help it automate processes and reduce costs.

In a report published today, the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed that the delivery of a £385 million Immigration Case Work (ICW) IT system is a year behind schedule and exceeded its original 2011-12 budget by £28 million. IBM signed a contract with the UKBA to be the strategic systems integration partner on the ICW programme in 2008.

“We found [the IT project] had suffered from a loss of focus, poor governance structures and optimism bias in planning and reporting, although the agency took steps to address these issues during 2011-12,” the NAO said in its report.

The ICW system, wider changes in caseworking processes and better working practices in the Border Force are supposed to deliver savings of at least £350 million between 2011 and 2015 and improvements in service delivery at the Border Agency. Some of the savings are expected to be due to a reduction in the number of staff by 4,500 full-time equivalents.

However, despite the delay in the implementation of the ICW system, a lack of communication and integration between different operations at the agency led to it cutting staff more quickly than planned, resulting in the need for new staff to be hired to deal with peaks in demand.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The UK Border Agency and the Border Force deserve credit for taking on an ambitious programme of change, but both organisations face a steep climb to ensure this work delivers both value for money and a good service.

“The real leadership test will be whether the agency can transform casework processing without relying solely on new IT, and whether the Border Force can improve its workface practices and raise productivity.”

The NAO welcomed the Border Agency’s plans to address the project delays by preparing a new transformation programme, which will reduce management layers, for launch in the autumn.

It also, however, recommended that the agency needs to further strengthen control over the ICW IT programme, and make sure that the system supports, rather than leads, its work to streamline caseworking processes.

In the UK Border Agency’s Business Plan for 2011-15, it said that the ICW system would enable savings of £100 million a year once fully implemented.

“The ICW is central to our plans to modernise caseworking. It will enable us to move applications online, introduce standardised caseworking IT systems and manage the workflow of cases better,” the agency said in the plan.

“Caseworkers will receive cases with all the information they need to take a decision. Some stages of applications will be automated and there will be less time-consuming data entry. This will enable us to reduce staff without creating unmanageable workloads.”

It added: “We estimate that redesigning processes and automating work could improve casework productivity by up to 60 percent in some areas.”

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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