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NAO says IT for borders should be better

03/12/15

Auditor’s report highlights shortcomings in data collection and heavy spending on e-Borders and its successors

The Home Office is still well short of its target for collecting data on 95% of people going in and out of the country, hitting just 86% five years after the original deadline.

UK_Border_Force_croppedThe National Audit Office (NAO) has highlighted the figure in its newly published report on e-Borders and successor programmes, which also says that while the department has provided some valuable capabilities over the past two years, it has failed to deliver the full vision.

The original programme was launched in 2003 and proved to be a high profile failure, with the Home Office cutting short its contract with lead supplier Raytheon in 2010 – a move that led to a lengthy legal dispute that was only settled, out of court, in March of this year.

It added £150 million from the settlement with Raytheon and £35 million in legal costs to the £340 million spent between 2006-11, and £303 million has been spent on successor programmes – bringing the total to £828 million.

Continuing ambition

e-Borders was formally killed off in March 2014, but the Home Office has retained the broad ambition of monitoring the 118 million travellers per year at the borders more effectively to combat terrorism and crime and control immigration. But the report says the department has not yet built an integrated system to support the effort, that its processes are inefficient and it cannot fully exploit the data it is receiving.

Meanwhile, information about travellers is still being processed on two systems that do not share data or analysis effectively.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The e-Borders programme began in 2003, with an ambition which has remained largely unchanged in the intervening years. It was due to have been completed in 2011. Since we are now in 2015, with the Home Office still not having delivered the original vision after expenditure of £830 million, I cannot view e-borders as having delivered value for money.

“Some valuable capabilities have been added to our border defences during the life of this project, though their efficiency is impaired by a failure to replace old IT systems.”

Reasons for failure

The report points to several reasons for the failures. One is that there has been no consistent strategy or realistic delivery plan: original plans were too ambitious for the timeframe and the Home Office has struggled to decide on how to move forward since the contract cancellation.

It has also underestimated the importance of stakeholders, with unrealistic assumptions about how to manage more than 600 plane, ferry and rail carriers, although there have recently been signs that the relationships are improving.

Gaps in capability and resourcing have undermined the ability to make decisions, and the programme has suffered from having eight directors between 2003-15.

In addition, the Home Office has not had a culture that demands high quality data, only imposing measures of the quality of data on travellers since 2014. This has contributed to gaps in management information.

Remaining concerns

Looking forward, the NAO expresses concerns that the Home Office is trying to deliver too many projects at once and there are already signs of slippage in the timescales. There are also signs that the benefits will be smaller than earlier expected, that more work is needed to align the way staff work with the technology, and there is a need for a target operating model for the Border Force.

But it also outlines four success factors: prioritising projects sufficiently well; improving stakeholder management; embedding the processes to match capability and resourcing; and making better use of data.

Given the prevailing concerns about terrorism and immigration, the pressure to make a success of the effort will continue. As the report emphasises: “Increasing the automation of border processes and making earlier and better-informed decisions about those wanting to cross the border have the potential to bring both financial and security benefits that are essential in the current environment.”

 

Picture adapted from image by the Home Office, uploaded by Opihuck,Open Government Licence v3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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