back to article E-borders will be eight years late and cost more than £1bn

MPs have slammed officials' misplaced confidence in the Home Office’s "vital to national security” e-Borders project, which will eventually cost the taxpayer more than £1bn and arrive at least eight years late. The project, which began in 2007, aims to collect and store information on passengers and crew entering and leaving …

  1. Ole Juul

    Where's the bouzouki player?

    Is it possible that actually nothing has been achieved to date and that this is an alternate version of The Cheese Shop? How will this end?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Where's the bouzouki player?

      Like the mice's chocolate biscuit factory.

      (Accenture tells The Home Office and HM Customs that the e-borders project makes passport control out of breadcrumbs and butterbeans. Accenture run the e-borders project, and it does appear to work, but then they rope off the passport control machines before anyone can go through.)

      http://www.smallfilms.co.uk/bagpuss/stories.htm

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Where's the bouzouki player? / How will this end?

      Why, if it's really like The Cheese Shop it will end with somebody being shot in the head, of course.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How is it possible that nothing is ever delivered?

    Maybe I've not been close enough to large government projects to understand this, but why is it so difficult to deliver what is in essence just a large database based lookup table?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How is it possible that nothing is ever delivered?

      why is it so difficult to deliver what is in essence just a large database based lookup table?

      Because it suits them.

      So long as nothing technical is delivered, the idiots of the Home Office can pretend its a technical problem. If something functional were delivered there's the certainty that their "open door to anybody" border policy will be undeniable, and they'd also have the real and embarrassing migration data rather than the current made up drivel.

      The e-borders programme will never deliver anything functional or useful, because that suits nobody.

      1. Grimsterise

        Re: How is it possible that nothing is ever delivered?

        Immigrants to blame for everything comment...

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: How is it possible that nothing is ever delivered?

        <sarc> Does it even have work? Think about it. It's security theatre. All they need to say that this is in place and everyone is safer now. </sarc>

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: How is it possible that nothing is ever delivered?

      And if it is 'delivered' then it wont work without the e-dado rail and a miriad of other accessories that will cost ever increasing delays and trebles all round.

    3. Adrian Tawse

      Re: How is it possible that nothing is ever delivered?

      Like you I am staggered at the total ineptitude of Government run contracts. This is a simple problem, record everyone leaving or entering the country by passport number. Check this against a list of undesirables. There are dozens of systems in existence that are at least ten times as complex so this is not rocket science. On the other I have peripheral experience of a project overseen by Raytheon and I was staggered by the determination to make it fail.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. djstardust

    Government IT?

    Why is it that companies like Facebook, Tesco, Amazon and many others can have extremely complex databases with the addition of online selling, and these sites for the most part are pretty good at what they do and reliable?

    It seems to me as an outsider that the IT industry sees Government projects as a cash cow where they know they can give piss poor performance for a lot of money and no accountability.

    Or is it the Government that keep moving the goalposts making the final project impossible to deliver?

    Who knows .......

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: Government IT?

      That seems to be the general problem. Getting them to nail down a requirement spec and then stick to it for at least as long as it takes to create a system which matches it. Politicians seem to feel a compulsive need to tinker with requirements while development is in progress.

      1. calmeilles

        Re: Government IT?

        Yup. Moving goalposts are a problem everywhere but with government it seems to be ($numberofdepartments*$numberofmpsonthecommittee) orders of magnitude larger.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Government IT?

      Its actually quite simple: they got rid of people in public employ who knew what they were doing cos efficiencies. They now have to ask the suppliers what is needed. The suppliers advise, partially implements, advise the opposition who ask awkward questions and the re-advises. Rinse and repeat.

      If the government saves me any more through efficiencies I will be broke.

  5. MrXavia

    Really? £1BILLION

    How hard can it be??

    I'll write a smart phone app to read a passport and check it against a database for only £10 Million...

    Seriously, what a waste of money....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's too simplistic a view

      It's a lot more complicated than that. Really.

      1. Vic

        Re: That's too simplistic a view

        It's a lot more complicated than that. Really.

        Why?

        Vic.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: That's too simplistic a view

          Why?

          Because it is, and few people outside of the border control system really understand just how much is happening under the covers.

          This is a intentional.

    2. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: read a passport and check it against a database for only £10 Million...

      The skill of government contractors is in getting government contracts and then talking the price up.

      Being competent and quickly delivering the goods is actually a downside since there is no opportunity to raise the price because of unexpected cost increases.

      MrXavia's comment clearly shows an appalling "engineer-think" can-do tendency to focus on the customer's problem. The real problem is to make as much money as possible, which means persuading the government to spend as much as possible by various tricks and techniques honed over decades.

      Now if he had written something like "I'll write a smart phone app to read a passport and check it against a database for only £10 Million, but once we have hooked them into signing the contract, unforeseen difficulties and changing requirements will eventually push the price past the much more profitable £10 billion mark", then his attitude would be more in keeping with the correct corporate ethos.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: read a passport and check it against a database for only £10 Million...

        This comment is not specifically about any programme, but something like this requires much, much more than just a database and something to hook mobile devices to it.

        You need to be able to do this at volume, you need to be able to make sure that it can cope with hardware and environmental failures and still perform, you need to make verifiable sure that the data is available where and to whom it is needed, and no further.

        You also need to be make sure that you have an infrastructure and staff that even with all the safeguards listed above, you can detect and react to unexpected events, and cope with both expected and unexpected disasters. All while keeping the service running.

        These programmes are always more complicated that they appear on the surface. Providing a secure and resilient service is expensive.

        Whether the people implementing the program actually give value for money is a completely different question, but I can guarantee you that your back-of-a-fag packet costing will always underestimate the real cost.

        1. Gordon Stewart

          Re: read a passport and check it against a database for only £10 Million...

          I agree completely that the solution is going to be complex, and must be resilient, secure etc.

          We are realistically talking about millions, or maybe tens of millions of pounds - but absolutely not hundreds of millions. This is yet another complete piss take at the tax payer's expense.

        2. MrXavia

          Re: read a passport and check it against a database for only £10 Million...

          "Providing a secure and resilient service is expensive."

          Yes, but not Billions more.

          With Heathrow Terminal 3, as anyone who's travelled through there can tell you that your only talking about 100-200 requests per minute based on time taken at immigration and emmigration desks.when they are running at full capacity.

          Clustered redundant application & db servers at each location, failover thats talks via VPN to another sites, live data replication between sites.

          Would be easy to integrate smart gates to the entry/exit system into it. sure reliable biometric gates are a more complex animal than just a passport entry/exit app.

          Sure security is an issue to deal with, but no more than any other system I've worked on, I would actually go on to say that customer data is from many apps is more privacy critical and needs better security than passport travel information... facebook and twitter probably hold more sensitive information about users than a passport does!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: read a passport and check it against a database for only £10 Million...

            There are roughly 100 million visits to/from the UK each year (about 2/3 accounted for by UK residents). That means 200 million passport "events" per year, or about 550,000 a day. So yes, big, and yes, complicated, but comparable to the integrity requirements for credit card transactions, say, and massively less in volume.

        3. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: read a passport and check it against a database for only £10 Million...

          If you think about it, isn't that exactly what FB, Google and their ilk do? Let zillions of devices connect, process lots and lots of personal information in real time and provide "solutions" which in their case are ads. Change out "ads" there to "allow/deny entry" and you have the same thing.

          Maybe the wrong companies are bidding for this. Maybe FB should? They could then tie all this info together, push some more ads and profit!

  6. Tromos

    People tracking? Leave it to the experts.

    I'm sure Google will be glad to provide the service in exchange for, say, a few tax breaks.

    1. Mike Banahan

      Re: People tracking? Leave it to the experts.

      That's probably quite a good idea. Have an upvote!

    2. John Hughes

      Re: People tracking? Leave it to the experts.

      Google are entirely the wrong people to do it -- all their services are for unreliable delivery of partial results. If e-borders is to be any good it has to do reliable delivery of full results, a much harder job.

      Someone who deals with real money, like Amazon or PayPal would be much better at it than Google.

  7. Rande Knight

    Government subcontracts

    Most of what is generated is paperwork. Lots of paperwork. A substantial portion of which is 'proof' that taxpayers money isn't being wasted. Irony at it's best.

  8. JaitcH
    WTF?

    The system was working ...

    when they used those thick books filled with details about dubious characters.

    Why does the UK have so much trouble doing what others have been doing for years? Cheaper to buy a copy rather than re-invent the wheel.

    And what about all those wonderful RFID passports - no good without a database.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: The system was working ...

      "Why does the UK have so much trouble doing what others have been doing for years? Cheaper to buy a copy rather than re-invent the wheel."

      Ah, but then it wouldn't be a British system, see? Can't have that, now can we, what?

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: The system was working ...

        Raytheon isn't British though. It's 'Merican according to the web. For a true British system, they'd best hire BAE.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    Soon!

    The good news is after 'Brexit' we can just put up a sign at the borders saying 'Fuck off'

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Soon!

      Based on those pictures in the news lately of the jungle in France thought you all had already done that. Herr Trump on the other hand.

      1. Down not across

        Re: Soon!

        Based on those pictures in the news lately of the jungle in France thought you all had already done that. Herr Trump on the other hand.

        If UK chooses to exit, French will probably just let them through so they will all be setting up camp in Dover instead.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Soon!

      The good news is after 'Brexit' we can just put up a sign at the borders saying 'Fuck off'

      Because we're never going to allow any EU citizens a visa, are we? It's not like our tourist industry matters at all. So what is Brexit going to do for us in this instance? Increase costs because of the need to manage a larger visa system and screen EU applicants, I would guess. It's that or we just allow citizens of specific EU countries to enter without a visa, which is probably not going to go down well with the other countries -- and of course that would never influence the magic instant trade deals the Brexiters expect to be signed as soon as we leave.

      Other than that, you appear to have failed to notice that we already have control of our borders. We're not part of Schengen and everyone without an EU passport gets checked.

      1. Chemist

        Re: Soon!

        " We're not part of Schengen and everyone without an EU passport gets checked."

        I've waited in the queue at Calais often enough in the past few years to know that everyone with an EU passport gets checked ( and its taking longer )

    3. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Soon!

      The good news is after 'Brexit' we can just put up a sign at the borders saying 'Fuck off'

      And then all the foreign tourists can just fuck off and spend the £22 billion that they bring into the country each year somewhere else.

      1. Christopher Blackmore

        That old myth again.

        The £22 billion these tourists bring in goes to billionaire hotel chains, tourist souvenir chains, and the like, who promptly offshore their profits so they continue to pay no tax.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Soon!

      Some people don't get irony.

  10. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Stepping back for a moment...

    ...it would, I think, be instructive to gather up the costs and delivery dates of all government projects initially estimated at over 10 million.

    My guess is that that you'd find that the cheaper ones more or less came in on time (plus or minus a predictable factor, which would be worth learning about) and on budget (ditto). Above that there would be a region of flakiness, where the initial estimates were just wrong, but the project eventually delivers. Above *that*, there would be projects that just eat cash indefinitely and never deliver anything of any value. (Most are eventually "declared finished", but closer inspection reveals that this is bollocks.)

    I'd *really* like the government to learn where that second threshold is, and just refuse to begin projects that are initially estimated above it. Even if it simply resulted in large projects being broken into smaller ones it would be worth it because the smaller ones could be properly tracked and cancelled or put back out for tender if necessary.

    Based on several decades of rolling my eyes from the sidelines, I'd guess that the second threshold is (at today's prices) somewhere around a billion or so. Any project larger than that is pretty much doomed.

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