back to article Europe's largest city council runs parallel systems to cover Oracle rollout mess

Birmingham City Council is running parallel systems to compensate for the troubled implementation of an Oracle system which will suck in £46.5 million ($58.81 million) in additional spending in the current financial year. The Council's Cabinet committee heard officials say this week that the council was running parallel …

  1. Chris Miller

    Gawd, I was wrestling with the problems created by beancounters trying to implement Oracle Financials 25 years ago - it sounds as though little has changed in the interim.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      ...Oracle Financials...

      I'm sure they have not suffered. Quite the contrary, they seem to thrive.

      1. NLCSGRV

        Leisure Suit Larry must have his new (bigger) yacht somehow.

    2. J. R. Hartley

      Hopefully Larry Ellison will be the next billionaire to snuff it.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    The right question

    "whether to change business processes to fit the new software or modify the software to fit business processes"

    If you have to ask yourself the question, it's the wrong software.

    Software is supposed to help you, not force you into an existential crisis.

    And Oracle is going to be in big trouble if an ad-hoc band-aid can do better than its software.

    I know who I'm rooting for . . .

    1. JimC

      Re: The right question

      Not only that, but the out of the box functionality tends to be simplistic and lowest common denominator. It all sounds so logical to alter the processes to fit the package, and our old friend Pareto suggests we can get 80% working just fine for moderate effort.

      But then comes the fly in the ointment. The system has to deliver 100% of the business. Especially with local government where pretty much everything is mandated and has to be delivered. In the private sector if something is expensive and unprofitable you can sell it off cheap or in extreme cases just stop doing it. For the LA that just isn't an option. So much as the management consultants who trousered a huge consultancy fee for telling you to use Oracle/SAP/whatever out of the box might say its unnecessary, out in the real world there's no choice.

      The other issue is that the existing system is full of issues where it handles things badly. Those issues are known about, understood, and there are ad hoc procedures to work around those problems. When it's ripped out and replaced you get a whole new set of issues, and all those have to be identified, understood, and new ad hoc procedures worked out.

      Damned if I know what the solution is though!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The right question

      I'd argue that if you need to change the software to fit the business you're likely best off using custom software not trying to coerce a COTS to your workflows and practices.

      I've seen so many projects fail by attempting to manipulate the software.

      1. Plest Silver badge

        Re: The right question

        My experience is that unless you start at a minimum of around 90% of what you need out of the box you will probably scrape it in, anything less and prepare for a world of pain as the software is bent, twisted and tortured to death to make it sing and dance for the implementation, projects go on for far longer than they should and always way over budget.

      2. localzuk

        Re: The right question

        Problem with custom software (or any software in fact) is getting the spec right for it. Most public sector projects for software seem to fail or go wildly out of control due to poor spec (and poor understanding of needs).

        1. prandeamus

          Re: The right question

          Yes. but public sector projects are not exactly unique in that regard. I've seen private sector projects flail around because systems integrators waltz in, *assume* that their favourite shrink-wrapped software will do 90% or more just out of the box. The wish is father to the thought. When they find out three months into a six week project that maybe some people made stupid assumptions, all is lost.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The right question

          "Problem with custom software (or any software in fact) is getting the spec right for it"

          Sure. But you have to have same specs for customizing shrink wrapped software too: There's no escape from that problem.

      3. Aitor 1

        Re: The right question

        This is the correct answer.

        If you are going to spend this much money, spend it in your own systems.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The right question

          "If you are going to spend this much money, spend it in your own systems."

          .... and sell/share with all the other councils. Everyone wins. Except greedy corporations.

    3. NeilPost

      Re: The right question

      That’s the route to madness and failed implementations.

      Standard business processes aids simplification, automation, integration.

      All of these local authorities do the same thing with the same partners/stakeholders for and to the same end-users.

      It’s the same crazy-ass disintegration you see all over US where every state/county adds another layer of bureaucracy, technology and officiousness. There is no need for there to be 50 states x Driving Licences/registration/vehicles and traffic laws when the Federal DoT sits above it.

      E.g. … Where gas needs to be pumped by an attendant in New Jersey.. but everywhere else is self-serve.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The right question

        "standard business processes aids simplification, automation, integration."

        A standard system you do yourself (and/or with other councils), specifially. And then use in every council:

        Almost all of the tasks are defined by law and you won't be able to change those to fit the shrink wrapped shiny piece Oracle delivers. Whole idea is absolutely illegal. Which part of that you chose to ignore?

    4. Timop

      Re: The right question

      Absolutely! Because ERP is such a simple system with minimum amount of coupling (plus Integrations to financial stuff, document management systems etc) and people are just lazy because nobody has got it right ever.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I live in Birmingham

    and I saw this coming over 10 years ago.

    Was told to fuck off when I expressed my concerns to my councillor.

    Anyone who lives in Birmingham and has to use their "inspired by the 1970s" website will know what I mean.

    These are the clowns that issue you with a "secret" PIN in two parts that you need to access your online account. So far so good. Only both parts are printed on the same letter they send you.

    ****ing muppets.

    1. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge

      Re: I live in Birmingham

      >>These are the clowns that issue you with a "secret" PIN in two parts that you need...Only both parts are printed on the same letter they send you.

      Birmingham don't have the monopoly on this particular idiocy. Pretty sure my last lot of BCS election emails were the same.

    2. NeilPost

      Re: I live in Birmingham

      Same crazy-ass bullshit as electoral registration/confirmation letters.

      You could not make this shit up.

  4. TVU Silver badge

    "In 2021, Oracle founder and CTO Larry Ellison said Birmingham City Council was one of a number of successful wins to migrate very large SAP ERP customers to Oracle Fusion. ®"

    "The issue came to light as part of recovery work linked to the council's troubled implementation of a new IT and finance system, Oracle, which has itself run up an unexpected £100 million bill, said the council"

    It might have been a win for Oracle but it certainly wasn't for Birmingham City Council.

    1. Sir Sham Cad

      As a rule I don't comment on live Work things but this year we moved to an Oracle finance system.

      It is widely regarded as "fucking shit" and "not as good as the old system" which was widely regarded as "fucking shit".

      That takes some doing!

      1. NeilPost

        Quite why across most local/national governmental organisations, health, military, education etc … they should be not be aspiring but for cutting edge, revolutionary, digitisation …. but merely systems that are adequate, functional…. Aka ‘not shit’.

        See Edin Uni on a similar catastrophe.

        Back to lamenting CCTA’s dismantling who could have led on this nationally, and not become the Cabinet Office Procurement led Organisation it now is.

  5. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Who’d have thought that changing a core property of a project would incur extra cost and delay completion.

  6. trevorde Silver badge

    First thing after it is finished

    Oracle license audit time!

  7. Valeyard

    after completion and 46 million pound spent on it, the new financial system uses gigaflops of unoptimised cycles to deliver this report:

    "Available budget is now 26p"

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Oracle: “oh, we see someone in your org has downloaded the extension pack for VirtualBox without a commercial license. Your available budget is now -£15,000. Have a nice day and thank you for choosing Oracle.”

  8. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

    All Cloud Strategy

    Customers need to submit themselves to all the Clouds.

    One may hope that all the bits and pieces are covered by some of the coulds.

  9. Tron Silver badge

    They could have saved millions...

    ...doing it on paper.

    Why didn't they agree a lump sum for a fully working system with penalties for late completion like anyone else signing a contract? They are the customer and are paying millions for it. Man the **** up.

    Many of my customers are switching to 'e-invoices only - paper invoices will be ignored'. Works like a chocolate teapot. Have to re-send up to 3 copies and payment is often late.

    Victorian clerks would be more accurate and cost-effective than tech solutions in cases like this.

    1. TheBadja

      Re: They could have saved millions...

      The contract will be based on generic requirements. Implementation depends on meeting specific requirements - i.e. what really works. The specific requirements can only be discovered by implementing something that highlights what it doesn’t do. Every every time. There is no such thing as a fixed cost contract that results in a successful implementation.

  10. Androgynous Cow Herd

    "Parallel systems"

    I was three paragraphs in before I figured out this is not an article about a city council using a HPCC...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sunk cost fallacy

    Seems like someone at the council really doesn't understand this tenet of finance.

    Estimates given to the press suggest the total cost of the project could run to £100 million ($126.4).

    At which point you ask "How are we receiving £100m of benefits over the existing system we're running in parallel?". Morons.

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: Sunk cost fallacy

      Benchmarking. Compared to, say, HS2 it’s on track, on budget and will deliver tremendous ROI (for Oracle at least…)

    2. Plest Silver badge

      Re: Sunk cost fallacy

      Given that this is Oracle Financials there's probably a "Bullshit Reports Module" available in there somewhere that will report exactly what people want to hear by comparing this apple to that orange!

  12. aerogems Silver badge

    Just started at a company that's been working on migrating to SAP from some smaller ERP and it seems like if there's one constant about this sort of thing it's that it's always going to take longer than expected and cost more than budgeted. New boss said something to me about how they're way behind schedule at this point and they're just going to go ahead with the launch anyway even though not all of the legacy data is loaded, short of something pretty significant happening because it's already cost the company some eye watering sum in consultants and whatnot.

    1. Plest Silver badge

      35 years in the game and I've yet to see a single project that was spec'd properly from the outset in terms of time required and costs, sure some things might come up unexpectedly but I've yet to see any large scale project run on time and on budget. Some days I wonder if my very presence around these is putting in some bad ju-ju but El Reg has absolved me of this guilt by simply showing me that the world is run by f**king idiots with no clue what they're doing and happy to waste other people's money not getting anything worthwhile done!

      On the positive side being nowt but a simple sysadmin cog in these shit-show machines has paid my mortgage and fattened my savings!

    2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

      Congratulations you've just discovered the first rule of project management:


      A question I always asked when recruiting anyone for a project management post was "were your projects delivered on time and within budget" . Anyone answering yes was an immediate reject!

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Successful projects

        20 years ago, I was involved in a project at one of the large UK banks that was migrating a service to new hardware, while upgrading both the infrastructure and application software stacks. Nothing huge, by the standards of Brimingham City, but a service that processed 100's of millions of pounds annually, and which was provided as a service to other banks.

        There was clear requirements about how long it would take, and the timescales were appropriate for the work.

        The time to deliver included a small amount of slippage allowance, but even that was factored in to the expected delivery time.

        Turns out we used just one week of the contingency, because of an external comms problem pushed back the dry-run by a week, and we ended up delivering well before the required due date, and I understand within the expected budget. And part of this delivery included a full disaster recovery test of the new systems, with one week running in the DR environment.

        I got an award for my contributions (I replaced someone who was having difficulties working with the project management), as I managed to catch up on lost progress, and helped during the cut-over with constructive suggestions to overcome what looked like a last minute major problem.

        And the project manager of this successful project? He was made redundant at the next round of cuts at the Bank. Just shows that you don't always get rewarded for success.

    3. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      I work for a subsidiary whose corporate overlords have forced us to move from our internally developed systems to Winchill (PDM) and SAP. We've been forced to change our processes to those of Windchill and SAP, how've both of these systems are also heavily modified because they couldn't do some things we are required to do in our industry (worst of both options!)

      We're now told we should migrate to SAP cloud, although we have sensitive data that can't go there, and you can't modify it a much, so it wouldn't meet or needs. Regardless, we continue the roll out of SAP, breaking all our processes, and pretty sure that we'll have to migrate away from it again (I'm hoping back to our original system).

    4. John70

      Then a new person joins the company at the exec level and decides they want a different system, so the cycle repeats.

  13. Plest Silver badge

    Irony in the extreme

    We needed to run two huge systems to do finanical reporting, an old reliable one and a new expensive over-budget one. The results from both system's reports are that we don't seem to have any money left in the f**king budget!

    1. _olli

      Re: Irony in the extreme

      An old acquitance working in logistics industry shared an insight that he's never seen a business case where replacing an existing ERP with another ERP system had demonstrated a positive return of investment, because typically whatever existing ERP system just works, ERP transition programs are expensive and new ERP always causes all sorts of unexpected hassle across the supply chain.

      Transition may of course be inevitable if an ERP system is tens of years old and badly outdated, but swapping from SAP to Oracle (or vice versa) sounds bit like swapping from cholera to plague.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old problems, just being scaled up

    This is nothing new. I knew companies who had drunk the SAP cool-aid 20-30 years ago and I can't recall one ever finishing the project with the projected improvements or savings. The consultants running the SAP projects (almost always brought in from outside the organisation) built the system on what they decided was needed, never what was actually needed by the company - not necessarily out of spite or pig-headedness, but because nobody with influence within the company knew any better.

    There was the systems defined in the various system manuals and I used to say most companies had at least five overlapping management systems:

    a) The one described in their financial controls;

    b) The one described in their (ISO9001) Quality System documentation;

    c) The one described in their Heath & Safety Manual;

    d) The one described in their Environmental Management System documentation (and/or CSR policies);

    e) What people actually did - which rarely aligned with any of the above (except during audits).

    My own work in those days was assessing supplier capability on behalf of large purchasers (sometimes as part of a pre-qualification exercise, sometimes during contract negotiations and sometimes afterwards to try and sort out what was going wrong).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Old problems, just being scaled up

      External Consultants/Solution Architects have knowledge and skills, but not Domain Knowledge.

      Even for relatively straightforward migrations like Google Workspace to M365.

      Lots of unknown unknowns… kicking around..

  15. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge

    The customer is always (maybe) right

    but this sounds like the analysts and architects maybe not doing their job in discovery, modelling and specification. Given the eye watering cost of this software, surely some robust design reviews are carried out? Or is this just hacked about by some highly paid consultants?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: The customer is always (maybe) right

      Does not every English local authority have the same reporting requirements?

      A system to provide statutory reports would in any same world be the gift of central government, not an opportunity for consultants to trouser bales of taxpayers money on a per council basis while repeating the same exercise.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: The customer is always (maybe) right

        On the strength of this evidence, the consultants are too fucking useless to even do that.

        Oh wait, you said nothing about the repeated solution actually working. Ignore me. I'm on Planet Sane.

    2. hopkinse

      Re: The customer is always (maybe) right

      There's only so much you can fit on the back of a fag packet

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does any of them ever do any math?

    £45M buys (subcontracts) a whole company of 50 people for 5 f**in *years* to *make* the ERP for you, all custom. Making an ERP from scratch isn't easy, but it's not really rocket science either.

    250 man years, does that sound realistic? Remember that it doesn't need to do everything SAP or Oracle does, it needs to do only needed stuff. That's *a lot* less.

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