back to article Met Police cancels £90m 999 call command-and-control gig

The Met Police has canned its £90m command-and-control system responsible for handling 999 calls with Northrop Grumman following major delays to the contract. In January it emerged that a three-year delay to the 17-year contract awarded in 2014 would result in an extra £25m being tacked on to the cost. The Met's current system …

  1. Graham Marsden

    Who pays?

    "MOPAC is also minded to pursue a claim against Northrop Grumman for costs and damages arising from the supplier's failure to deliver a command and control solution in accordance with the contract"

    But if they do, will they have a good chance of getting their (our!) money back or will we end up with an even bigger bill as their lawyers' fees are added on top?

  2. Alan Brown Silver badge

    You have to wonder

    Why there aren't penalty clauses for nondelivery.

    Any decent commercial contract has this.

    1. Richard Jones 1
      Unhappy

      Re: You have to wonder

      I was always told by our legal eagles that the problem with liquidated damages was that we wanted a working widget not some small change payout. A good widget would cover its CapEx in 3 to 6 months so getting it in time was high on the must have list..

      We were usually buying something of known provenance, that supported standards, not something being nailed together in someone's garden shed. (Though one now closed prime contractor did offer a solution with a protocol adapter from a garden shed supplier who had already told us in no uncertain terms they would not be building anything of the sort.)

      The Met Police system in question is very much one of a kind. It would be usually best to find someone else who has a working set up, purchase their solution. The use the build time to match your processes as far as possible to their proven practice.

      1. tfewster Silver badge

        Re: You have to wonder

        > It would be usually best to find someone else who has a working set up, purchase their solution. The use the build time to match your processes as far as possible to their proven practice.

        But...We're unique (Just like every other service that takes emergency calls and dispatches resources)! And our processes ARE the best practices (of all the organisations that do the same job as well as we do)! And we couldn't possibly reorganise to fit around a new system (as we're too busy constantly reorganising for political purposes)! And we couldn't retrain all our staff to use an intuitive, well tested, reliable, scalable system that saved them time immediately!

        Been there, seen that, begrudged the waste of my tax money as my employer evaluated seven well known Hospital Information Systems and then decided to have the son of one of the Directards build them a bespoke system instead.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You have to wonder

          Sorry to say but as one of the losing bidders on the work and 'familiar' with what went on, the Met Police actually wanted an off the shelf system based on a working C&C. As I recall NG had supplied this system to Chicago (similar sized force) and had it working.

          From memory NG won the contract to supply the software but didn't win the contract to integrate and deliver the system. I *thought* CapGemini did, but could be wrong.

          Its not clear from the article exactly what has gone wrong and it may be that the delivery contract was re-let or something. I had moved on after the bid. I do recall from the various meeting that the Met were keen to go off the shelf BUT their older Cobol based baggage system (yep your 999 system was a baggage handler) was so old that nobody could really describe what it did and how it worked. I recall printouts of Cobol Information Divisions being provided when interface specs were requested. I also recall insane SLA requirements.

          I suspect that the Met Police simply had no idea what their old system did and how it worked. When the delivery partner tried to get into the details of linking old system to new system to make sure things carried on working, they found out that nobody had a clue what it did (though it was very reliable). That could account for some of the delay and some of the extra costs.

          I have some (but not a lot) of sympathy for the supplier, MPS were quite bolshy and difficult at times, however the supplier should have checked more about what was required. MPS were very, very, very aggressive on cutting the suppliers costs. In the end we were nervous about winning as we had to get down to a cost structure that we didn't think we could deliver to, senior management wanted a win so costs were cut and cut even though we stated that we were too cheap, losing the bid was a relief

          I suspect this one could run and run, something like Raytheon and the Home Office.

    2. TitterYeNot

      Re: You have to wonder

      "Why there aren't penalty clauses for nondelivery."

      There almost certainly are, the problem is getting an agreed definition of non-delivery. Say ACME Consultancy Corp. is contracted to deliver a system for a public sector department. The system is spec'd, built and delivered for testing.

      Technically clueless big boss civil servant - "We can't use this! It's useless! It doesn't do X, Y or Z! We want our money back!"

      ACME Consultancy Corp. - "Here's the specification you gave us, it's supposed to do A, B, C and D. Why didn't you tell us about X, Y and Z?"

      Technically clueless big boss civil servant - <Splutters> "It's a multi-rotatory testiculator administration system, everyone knows it needs to do X, Y and Z!"

      ACME Consultancy Corp. - <Sighs> "OK, back to the drawing board..."

      I'm not saying this sort of situation is completely down to incompetent civil servants, as IT service providers sometimes demonstrate unbelievable levels of ineptitude or unethical business practice. But if you nail down a contract so tightly that it's chock-a-block with penalty clauses, service providers will simply not bid for the work, as many have been very badly burned in the past (see the NHS NPfIT as an example, where wildly moving goalposts cost some providers several hundreds of millions of pounds, whether they bailed out of the contract or blithely carried on.)

      Water tight delivery contracts will only work once public sector departments employ a decent number of competent, experienced system and business analysts etc. who know their department's operation and current technology well enough to produce a properly specified contract, that, if delivered to spec, will be both functional and usable. If a provider fails to deliver in that situation, then it's fair and square penalty time, with an extra kick in the 'nads for good measure...

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: You have to wonder

        "Water tight delivery contracts will only work once public sector departments employ a decent number of competent, experienced system and business analysts etc. who know their department's operation and current technology well enough to produce a properly specified contract, that, if delivered to spec, will be both functional and usable."

        This. This and this again. And again. Have an armful of virtual upvotes as I can give you only one real. There was a time when public sector departments (at least those who deal with technical things) actually had people on staff who understood what it's all about. Okay, maybe their knowledge tended to get a bit stale over the years - that's pretty much down to the individual person. Some like to learn and keep up to date. Others don't. But the basics never really change.

        But this wasn't efficient enough! No, no, no! Let's bring in private sector efficiency! Let's hire external consultants with cutting edge knowledge that are so much smarter! They must be, look at what they charge!

        Trouble is, more often than not you hire consultants that are smart, but have absolutely no clue about what your department actually does and how how certain processes work. And no, some of them can't be changed due to legal requirements.

        Worst case: the consultancy firm is indirectly and discreetly owned/controlled by - surprise! - the very company that offers just the solution you really need...

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: You have to wonder

        "Water tight delivery contracts will only work once public sector departments employ a decent n

        number.....[snip]"

        Whilst you may think you're describing a unicorn, there are such people. The problem works something like this:

        Spec is written by competent staff

        Manglement rewrite spec, or refuse to provide enough money to allow the project to go forward.

        Over the objections of the staff, the job is tendered.

        No contractor in their right mind goes near it.

        Those that do, cut corners in the responses, etc. This is approved by manglement over the objections of the staff who wrote the original spec.

        Selected contractor delivers item which exactly meets agreed specs.

        Manglement get promoted for delivering on time and under budget

        System doesn't work, as the agreed specification would never work.

        "Oh, you need changes? That's outside the contract and will be £10k per item or £10k per day. Thanks"

        The problem is usually that of too many chiefs. Every single one wants to justify their existence by putting their 2p into the design, which results in a fustercluck.

        As others have pointed out there are a number of off-the-shelf solutions which would work just fine, but that would mean that egos wouldn't be stroked in such expensive ways.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You have to wonder

      Why there aren't penalty clauses for nondelivery.

      The simple answer is that this was a contract created by civil servants that have never been out working in the real world and as such are clew-less but just write what the contractor wants them to.

      1. Anonymous IV

        Re: You have to wonder

        > The simple answer is that this was a contract created by civil servants that have never been out working in the real world and as such are clew-less but just write what the contractor wants them to.

        I think that's the best bit of creative homonym spelling I've seen for a long time!

        Even more impressive is that "clew" is meaningful to sailors.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You have to wonder

          @Anonymous IV I did notice that at the time but got called away before I changed it. I also wondered how many people would pick it up.

    4. JimC

      Re: You have to wonder

      Speaking as a techie I've never found penalty clauses to be of any value at all.

      No-one ever thinks their project is going to go pear shaped, so if all is going well they make no difference to anything.

      If things go wrong two things happen.

      The first is that your supplier, instead of trying to fix things and deliver, puts their prime effort into avoiding the penalty clauses. This doesn't make the project go any better at all.

      The second is that your bean counters and lawyers want to invoke the penalty clauses, so instead of getting on with doing something useful and in particular planning for how you're going to keep the old system running for another two years while another setup gets procured you're constantly getting badgered by the suits for evidence of why the penalty clauses do apply.

      And the end result: loads of quite unproductive effort on both sides - and you still haven't got the bloody system.

      The solution, of course, is to make sure that you pick a vendor who isn't going to foul up and can deliver, which ain't easy at the best of times, and is even less easy if half the best vendors took a look at your proposed penalty clauses and decided to withdraw their bid for the project...

    5. AlbertH

      Re: You have to wonder

      Not any more. British governmental (emphasis on "mental") contracts have not had penalty clauses since these were dropped under Bliar's government. Procurement processes now just have to show that there have been two or three competing bids and that they have been "evaluated". The practical upshot is that the bidders will get together, agree amongst themselves who's going to get the contract, then two companies bid insanely high prices and the third bids a smaller, still inflated price and "wins" the contract.

      It usually costs more to abandon a contract part way through than to let it finish then reject the result!

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: You have to wonder

        "The practical upshot is that the bidders will get together, agree amongst themselves who's going to get the contract"

        What tends to happen for equipment supplies is that one of the bidders registers themselves as "owning" the deal with the distributors and gets a 30% discount on pricing that the others don't see.

        This isn't technically illegal, but I've made it clear to distributors who pull this shit that they've been put on my "never deal with again" list - and I'd like to see this kind of preferential supplier registration outlawed.

        Funnily enough the same companies who pull this kind of "aggressive deal registration" are also the ones who think that they have it all stitched up and get uppity when I spend my 500k in germany instead of with them.

  3. boltar Silver badge

    "Why there aren't penalty clauses for nondelivery."

    Presumably the contract was drawn up by politicians and/or civil servants. Clueless the lot of them. Though no doubt the ones responsible for this debarcle will soon get a promotion to work at the MoD or Dept of Health to take their screw up talents there to make sure the entire country gets shafted for billions due to companies not delivering or overcharging for services.

  4. Alister Silver badge
    Coat

    supplier didn't deliver

    Maybe they left it round the back behind the bins...

  5. Sir Barry

    Dispute the right to terminate contract

    Hang on, I go into work and don't do my job I get sacked.

    They have not been doing their job so they have been sacked.

    How can they dispute that?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dispute the right to terminate contract

      Do they ask you to pay back your salary for the past few years too?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dispute the right to terminate contract

        Depends, if you're a contractor and you fail to deliver, yes they can. Same as if you fuck up badly enough they can pursue you for damages too.

        That's why we have insurance. Fortunately mine has not been needed, but I know of others who've been in that exact boat. Even if you're a permie - there'll be no more payments into your pension pot for starters.

        I'd like to think that the milestone payments they're pursuing are part of the contract, but really who knows... They SHOULD be, as already mentioned there should be penalty clauses for exactly this sort of thing. At least the met are actually cancelling the contract though - rather than, I don't know, buying an Air Defence ship and then paying extra to make the SAMs work, then paying more when it's late and so on and so forth.

        I don't understand why these contracts, when the delivery is late, add extra cost. I've never signed a contract like that, even when it's for large, expensive, and complicated delivery. And I've never written a contract like that. The contract is to deliver X in timescale Y. There's usually an agreed bit of leeway in Y. If Y+YLeeway is passed, then you've failed to deliver shirley?

        1. FlatSpot
          Holmes

          Re: Dispute the right to terminate contract

          Depends if it was delivered with an audit able trial of change control (ie. change of requirements) and the customer signed that off, understanding it would take longer and cost more.

          If so, they got what they asked for and therefore will have little recourse.

    2. EyePeaSea

      Re: Dispute the right to terminate contract

      Hang on, I go into work and don't do my job I get sacked.

      They have not been doing their job so they have been sacked.

      How can they dispute that?

      It's almost certainly not that simple, as others have said. These big (and yes, they can be very complex) systems frequently have the same problem. I see it in the Private sector as well as with Public sector contracts (people should stop lambasting 'civil servants' - 99% of them do 99% of the work, with about 1% of the authority to make decisions and only about 10% of the pay)

      Basically - the organisation (or people tasked with writing the system specification), rarely understand their own business or actual requirements. Or, their requirements change over time (What do you mean you've painted my house red? I decided 10 seconds ago I wanted it blue...).

      Therefore, what the contractor bids for is rarely what is wanted. Add to that, incompetent sales teams desperate to meet sales targets, they'll quite happily sell something (a system or service) that the poor saps tasked with delivering it, can rarely deliver within the agreed time/costs.

      To use your analogy, let's say you were recruited to a job to be a Widget Inspector (you have been doing that for 20 years). You turn up for the job and they say they'd like you to perform neuro-surgery on Squids living in a nearby zoo. You give it a go (you're that kind of person), fail miserably and then get sacked after 12 months for not being up to the job. And they ask for the last 12 months salary back.

      I think you'd argue then... even though you should probably have left after the 1st day, when they handed you a scalpel and drove you to the zoo...

      These problems are rarely the fault of just one side. It's down to incompetence, greed, political interference etc. etc.

  6. Ru'

    We don't know the full story; who knows how many feature-creep changes were forced on NG during their work etc. No doubt it will cost the plod more to get out of the contract then it would have to keep going and get some deliverables...

    1. Dan Wilkie

      Thing is though, part of the blame for that would sit with NG again. You agree to deliver something. Any changes to that something shouldn't just be lumped in as part of the contract - its a contract to deliver something concrete.

      That way when things change, it's in addition to the contract. I'll be honest, I've never ran into contracts that work like this (mind you, I've never been involved in tendering for contracts more than a couple of million so maybe it doesn't creep in until further up the budget ladder).

      But if I can see this, i don't understand why people who's job it is to negotiate these exact things can't see it. By making sure the deliverables are set in stone, the supplier protects themselves from feature creep, and the customer protects themselves from timescale creep. Everyone wins. And if the customer decides they'd really like features XYZ, then you deal with it separately as an addition to the contract with it's own scope, time frame and cost. I can't see that open ended vague contracts really help either side.

  7. xeroks

    Feep, Feep!

    I expect the project was attacked by the feeping creatures, which would be the fault of the customer, not the supplier.

    The existing, mature system is being enhanced, so what chance did the project have?

    1. Should b Working

      Re: Feep, Feep!

      It's not unheard of for a bespoke project to run over time, but they were probably looking for a way out of spending all that cash as soon as they signed the contracts. The upgrade to the existing platform seems to signal exactly what you're saying.

      I wish them good luck getting the milestone payments back. If you've already reached the milestone and completed that work, how could you possibly ask the contractor for the money back? More fool them if they only had time gates for the payments rather than actual project milestones.

  8. localzuk

    Unique system?

    There are thousands of police forces around the world. All of them will have some form of command and control system. Why does the Met need a bespoke solution?

    Would it not make sense for there to be some form of standard?

    1. boltar Silver badge

      Re: Unique system?

      "Would it not make sense for there to be some form of standard?"

      All large organisations tend to think they're unique in some way and need bespoke solutions. Sometimes they do, but in this case I agree with you - there must be off the shelf systems they could use , perhaps with a bit of tweaking. I would suggest the home office get involved and make a shortlist for all UK police forces but they're probably just make things worse.

      1. billat29

        Re: Unique system?

        They tried that. Unfortunately it involved the bungling Home Office up against 43 fiefdoms.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Unique system?

        but its worse than that we have a ridiculous number of police forces in the UK (something like 41!) Add in the number of fire and ambulance control rooms, etc and that's a lot of systems. To be fair the last Labour government tried (and failed) to merge a lot of these separate control rooms in to a small number of regional ones (one of their more sensible ideas) Met with a lot of problems (vested interested I expect) Regional and combined (police, fire, ambulance) control rooms really should have been forced to happen

        1. NotBob

          Re: Unique system?

          From across the pond, I'd say that combining regional control rooms sounds like a horrible plan. I may be misunderstanding.

          We do combined control in my area for all local resources (police, fire, ems dispatch). There is a dedicated line to state police and dispatch centers for nearby regions. This control center can also call in resources we don't have but which are near (haz-mat, medical choppers) and private contractors (wreckers, rollbacks). These facilities are mostly organized by county.

          There was an idea at one point to consolidate these, but the impossibility of being familiar enough with the area made it nearly impossible.

          Yes, we have used directions like "Park the fire truck just up the road from that house that burned the other year" and "they'll meet you at the stump." It's not perfect, but working is the important part, not perfection,

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Unique system?

            local knowledge is often sited but isn't really an issue, it is still local officers\firemen\ambulance crews that attend and they have local knowledge. For instance in the SW of the UK where I live our ambulance centre is based in Exeter, (I live 1.5h from Exeter), The Exeter control room covers the counties of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and the former Avon area (Bristol, Bath, North and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire). Obviously a small area in US terms but the population of the region is around 5.5M. No reason at all why it couldn't also be command and control for Police and Fire.

            1. Commswonk Silver badge

              Re: Unique system?

              No reason at all why it couldn't also be command and control for Police and Fire.

              Sorry; it isn't that simple. C & C incorporates a lot more than "go to such and such address". The different emergency services have differing requirements in the databases from which they work and differing requirements in the information they log while any given incident is active.

              While there may well be scope for operating from common premises simply using the same operators using the same software is not really an option. Furthermore if it has proved impossible to have commonality of systems between different police forces then finding / enforcing commonality between those 40 - odd forces and comparable numbers of F & R and ambulance services really is expecting too much.

              Police operators (most likely civilian personnel rather than sworn constables) have to handle sensitive material on occasions and having that available to all and sundry would at best be inappropriate.

              In any event the article on which this thread is based was about a single police force ditching (or at least planning to ditch) a supplier who has, er, failed to supply, not about any shortcomings in the way emergency service C & C is organised nationwide; the thread has developed feature creep!

              OK; I'll come clean; I used to work for a police force but not as a Control Room operator; there is a clue in my El Reg identity. But at least I do have an insight into how emergency service systems differ.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Unique system?

                not saying they don't differ, but a lot more effort could be put in to making services work closer together and from shared control rooms\premises. And we don't need 42 police forces! I notice things are now beginning to change as cuts bite, Devon and Cornwall are looking at a lot closer ties with both Somerset and Dorset forces, and so they should! Why Dorset has its own forces is bizarre its tiny

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Unique system?

            "From across the pond, I'd say that combining regional control rooms sounds like a horrible plan. I may be misunderstanding."

            Bear in mind that the UK is roughly the size of one middling midwest state and each UK county is generally at most only 10-20 miles across.

            Now reassess your idea of having a separate control room for each county fire service (43 of them), county police force (same), ambulance service (these have been combined but suffered from political appointeee mismanagement), county schools (each county has its own school system, resulting in wildly varying funding levels), etc etc.

            To add to the fun, realise that in greater London (effectively everything within the M25), there are multiple police groups (the Met handles most of the core but not all the periphery) who don't talk to each other effectively, multiple fire services who don't talk to each other _at all_ and school districts which are under 5 miles across in some cases..

            It's a fustercluck. The single biggest impediment to sorting it out is the sheer number of people employed in it who actively resist reforms because staffing levels in the back offices could easily be slashed by 75% if done properly.

    2. Loud Speaker

      Re: Unique system?

      Why does the Met need a bespoke solution?

      To maximise backhanders.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unique system?

      This is a great example of that HL Mencken quote "for every complex problem, there is a simple solution which is wrong"

      There isn't even a worldwide standard for something as straightforward as electrical sockets, and here's someone thinking all that is needed is that all the worlds police, fire and ambulance systems get together over a weekend, have a nice chat, agree what features and functions such a highly complex system would have, and no doubt you could buy one of those off the shelf by the end of the year. Plus ignoring all the legacy interface and working issues.

      Doh !

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Holmes

    Where there's a will, there's a way!

    I feel bad for the supplier project team members who will have kiddie p0rn 'found' on their laptops.

    Mind how you go.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Where there's a will, there's a way!

      You don't mess with Northrop Grumman. They have drones and stuff...

  10. RyszrdG

    More to this then meets the eye ...

    Given that this was advertised as being an implementation of an existing Grumman product (CommandPoint) it would be interesting to know what is the root cause of the non-compliance in performing the contract. That the delivery date is extended by two years one year into the contract suggests a classic failure of mutual due diligence, the triumph of optimism over experience and requirements creep - as usual with fault on both sides.

  11. David Roberts

    Integration with the comms?

    Hasn't there been some fluttering in the dovecotes recently over the communications infrastructure?

    Things like selecting a mobile phone provider with no coverage inside the Underground?

    If your communications infrastructure (possibly one major part of C&C) is a moving target then it may be very difficult to integrate you software.

    London is not like most other UK cities because of the Underground network. I have no idea if systems from other major cities such as New York reflect the way that the UK does things. No doubt we shall learn more in time.

    Back in the days when I worked on bids the aim of the game was to expend minimal effort on winning the bid, keep things nice and loose in the contract, then do the real design work if you won. Make any under bid back through the inevitable change control when the customer realised that what the specification said wasn't what was really needed. I don't suppose that things have changed that much. Note that this was often agreeable to both sides, especially if the customer had a "use it or lose it" budget allocation and was in the last financial quarter.

    I have commented before on the impossibility of delivering if politically motivated changes arrive at a faster rate than the ability to deliver to the previous specification.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020