back to article Mega city council's Oracle ERP system still not legally safe, compliant... 2 years after rollout

Birmingham City Council has failed to enter the new financial year with auditable accounting software after a disastrous implementation of Oracle Fusion, which has seen its expected project costs mushroom from around £20 million ($26 million) to around £131 million ($163 million). The council has now missed its second deadline …

  1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Once you get a financial system working, you need to perform a no-blame investigation to uncover the truth of what happened.

    Once that's out, then you can start looking to apportion blame. Trying to uncover what happened with the aim of finding someone to blame will only result in finding a convenient scape-goat. It won't come close to finding the truth.

    1. Henry 8
      Coat

      You seem to be assuming that it's not possible to just successfully implement a new financial system for a large public organisation without then needing to perform _any_ kind of investigation.

      Oh right. I'll get my coat.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's a UK Council so decisions (or lack of decisions) will have been made by a committee that likely now has collective amnesia.

      Distractions will be found and if the committee is lucky, a victim to hang the blame on will exist but closer inspection will show it was a small side issue rather than the root cause.

      While I have no direct insight into the issue, massive cost overruns in ERP systems likely centre on whether the business can adapt to the ERP system - given the number of systems Councils run, many of which are legacy (or possibly antique...), failure to integrate or upgrade key systems likely resulted in significant scope change.

      The decisions or indecision that caused the scope change will be vague and clearly the responsibility of third parties that were just greedy with the Council being innocent victims in an IT industry that exploited them.

      The following lessons have been learned which will prevent future issues:

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As an El Reg greybeard in Brum

    I can suggest that one reason for this might be hiring practices that seemed to reject applicants I know who could have done the job on their heads.

    Obviously now we are where we are they (a) can't afford the real skills and (b) daren't let anyone competent near this who could trace things back.

    1. Plest Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: As an El Reg greybeard in Brum

      Now you're not saying that DEI has any part to play in this fiasco are you?! Wash your mouth out in one of them many canals you lads have!

      Seriously, I can well imagine this being a local government project that it was infested with money grabbing consultants, progessive DEI HR types and a complete absence of anyone with any common sense in running any sort of project let alone a complex IT project. Ah well , better get back to work as my taxes need to be earned, paid so they can be wasted on trying to fix that mess!

  3. Zibob Bronze badge

    Recoup costs?

    At what point does total failure to pride the outlined specs result in the return of funs paid for said off effective system.

    Maybe with interest for the time wasted and problems caused.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Recoup costs?

      They have already asked this question to the chap who was hired as an Oracle advisor. They said the Oracle system could be made to work.This advisor, along with the other "experts", are costing us all real money here.

      And to call for a public inquiry, costing more money, will do nothing to sort it out.

      The current system does not work. It has been demonstrated to perform as such. Kill it, sack the people involved in it's implementation and specification planning, and start again. That has to be the cheaper way of getting it done.

      But of course, it's public money, so either way it's going to cost us money.

      1. abend0c4 Silver badge

        Re: Recoup costs?

        I would imagine you could buy a large number of double-entry ledgers and hundreds of FTE years of clerking for the amount expended to date.

        1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

          Re: Recoup costs?

          IIRC, aren't they currently paying people to manually to do processes the system should be doing? Isn't that part of the on going cost?

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Recoup costs?

      The problem with that is they did a massive pivot in terms of spec mid contract. I bet the Oracle people were laughing all the way to their paradise islands on hearing that news!

      1. James Anderson

        Re: Recoup costs?

        You have to understand that local government in the UK is not part of central government in the same way that Poland was not part of the Soviet Union.

        All the important decisions are taken by and for central government. The councillors are there to take the blame.

        Most likely there statuary duties changed mid implementation.

        1. Maximus Decimus Meridius

          Re: Recoup costs?

          If that is the case then other councils would have been caught out in the same change. Given I am not seeing this anywhere else, that would lead me to the conclusion the feck up is Birmingham's rather than Central Government's

        2. Robert Grant

          Re: Recoup costs?

          I'm not sure that's quite the case - there's definitely stuff left to local councils. A former employer sold into councils in the early 2000s so I had experience with a few customers, and they seemed fairly automonous.

  4. Ochib

    Sunk Cost fallacy

    There is a danger of the “sunk cost fallacy” being applied “Oh well, we’ve already spent £100 million so we had better go ahead and spend another £100 million…”

    1. call-me-mark

      Re: Sunk Cost fallacy

      I misread that as "Sunak Cost fallacy".

      1. Spazturtle Silver badge

        Re: Sunk Cost fallacy

        Sunak's problem is that he thinks that everything is a sunk cost fallacy and doesn't understand that engineering projects usually have front loaded costs. So he scraps projects after the bulk of the expensive design has been done because he can't see any physical work being done.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sunk Cost fallacy

        same thing! ;-)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Realistically what's Plan B?

    Where do they go from here ? - time's moved on, a lot of financial transactions have taken place. Stand the old system back up and re-key all the missing data (if that's even possible/feasible) or jump to something else and start from scratch (but with what data, you've already apparently stuffed all the current transactions and that can't be trusted).

    There's no clear path to safety that I can see apart from "make the %$^% thing work".

    As soon as they went live with the dead parrot, they were well and truly "joined to another object by an incline plane wrapped helically around an axis".

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Realistically what's Plan B?

      The problem is that THIS IS the Plan B!

      Plan A was to implement Oracle with no customisation. They found they couldn't do that, so they decided to customise the product.

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Realistically what's Plan B?

      Plan B is to evaluate the feasibility of plans C-Z.

      And then consider whether it may be necessary to construct plans α-ω...

    3. Tom 38

      Re: Realistically what's Plan B?

      Plan S... AP

      1. Tom66

        Re: Realistically what's Plan B?

        ...the lifeblood out of the council even further.

        I've never met a poor SAP consultant.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Realistically what's Plan B?

      excel spread sheets, hey it works for the NHS............................................. ;-)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't this a job for AI ?

    Or rather can we put a call out to all those peddling "AI" like there is no tomorrow and then use the subsequent tumbleweed to shut the fuckers up once and for all ?

    You would have thought that Google, or MS would be chomping at the bit to show off the power of AI. Well the power to do something other than fleece the easily fleeced.

    1. Mike007 Bronze badge

      Re: Isn't this a job for AI ?

      LLMs cost a fortune to operate and can't add up properly. So a like-for-like replacement...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Isn't this a job for AI ?

      chat GPT 4 "ayup how do we fix the sh1t show oracle deployment at brum city council?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Isn't this a job for AI ?

        Fixing a problematic Oracle deployment at Brum City Council would likely involve a thorough analysis of the current setup, identifying the issues, and implementing a plan to address them. This might include optimizing database performance, resolving configuration issues, updating software versions, or even considering alternative solutions if Oracle isn't meeting the council's needs. Consulting with experienced Oracle specialists could be beneficial in finding the most effective solution.

        [Human Note: That last bit might be what got them in to this mess in the first place]

  7. sitta_europea Silver badge

    Where have I heard all this before?

    Oh, yes, at Aldwych House.

  8. b0llchit Silver badge
    FAIL

    Pen(cil) and paper

    Wouldn't it be cheaper for them to dump the computers and go back to good old pen(cil) and paper?

    At least they have to get more employees, which is a Good ThingTM to reduce unemployment. Alternatively, they can re-employ the consultants as pen(cil) and paper pushersemployees, at a severely reduced pay, of course.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Tubz Silver badge
    Facepalm

    So, from the reports it's sound like one major clusterf... after another and did they just go live. Surely somebody not dipping their fingers in to the public purse, stood abck and said maybe we do this in tranches, see what issues we hit and fix them first, like any sane and professional project manager would insist on, funny how this would have saved a lot of grief and probably millions of pounds?

  10. aerogems Silver badge

    Sounds like there needs to be clauses in these contracts that the vendor (Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, etc) guarantee that the project will be completed on time and on budget, or they will incur penalties and eat any costs over and above whatever's laid out in the contract.

    1. Ochib

      The project was probably completed as per the original contract. but if BCC keep moving the goalposts then, that will increase the cost.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It is possible BCC moved the goalposts, but more likely “, it went down like this

        1. N-year old legacy system is no longer sustainable

        2. Get independent consultants to run Tender process

        3. Select $supplier by dubious criteria and process. Maybe they used a framework.

        4. People who have never negotiated a multi-million pound contract, agree terms with people who do it every week

        5. Project delivered as per terms does not work as envisioned

        6. change requirements to make it work. Supplier agrees for £££. (At this point you can’t choose another supplier)

        7. Supplier delivers as agreed. Still doesn’t work. GOTO 6

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          1.5 wait as long as possible before taking decisions

  11. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    “A basic rule of government is never look into anything you don’t have to, and never set up an inquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be."

    - Sir Humphrey Appleby

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah...Where Is George Santayana When You Need Him?

    Quote: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

    From 2018: https://yourshortlist.com/biggest-uk-government-project-failures/

    See #2 in the list: Quote: "The failed centralised e-record system cost the taxpayer over £10 billion"

    To get to the point, Birmingham has a ways to go to get into the record books for IT project failure. £131 million...Ha!!.....chicken feed.......

    What surprises me is that Larry Ellison is even engaged in this shambles....he needs BILLIONS for stuff like the Americas Cup.........

    ......but maybe his goal in Birmingham is actually BILLIONS........time will tell................

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was Object Oriented Programming involved?

    - the question to anyone familiar with the topic.

    1. Tom66

      Re: Was Object Oriented Programming involved?

      Nowt wrong with OOP when used appropriately. Oracle software on the other hand, I've yet to be convinced...

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Re: Was Object Oriented Programming involved?

        Maybe, in this case, OOP stands for Orrible Oracle Programming!

  14. fred_flinstone

    Oh look, another clueless public body thinking it knows best and wasting millions of public funds (aka our hard earned taxes).

  15. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    We've had this before: "Largest local authority in Europe"? Isn't Greater London bigger?

    1. Ian 70

      Isn't "Greater London" just the name for an area made up of much smaller councils with no actual central authority?

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Not since 2000.

  16. Tron Silver badge

    Plan A....

    ... should have been to continue with the old system until the new system was up and running, and working, in parallel with it.

    It may have been a better idea to switch back to paper and minimal tech, 80s style. Someone needs to do the sums on this sort of thing. These tech deals cost stupid money, year on year, and don't even work. You shouldn't go digital with anything unless it offers benefits across the board. If you lose resilience, if it costs tonnes more money, and if it isn't fit for purpose, go back to the future and do it 80s style.

  17. Plest Silver badge
    Happy

    A screwed up Oracle project? "who'd a dun thunk it"!

  18. Robert Grant

    I'm no Oracle fan.

    But:

    > "Members are of the opinion that they were not being given the full facts," the report said.

    The members wouldn't know what to do with the full facts. They won't understand them, any more than most of us would be able to judge the results of surveys on the land they were going to bore through to make a new Tube line. They just won't say it.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mega city council

    Thanks, your headline has now put a vision of a Brummie Judge Dredd into my head… "Oi yam the law!" [1]

    On the other hand, perhaps that's just the sort of civic visit that those perps at Oracle, and their project partners, need to help focus their attentions?

    [1] Apologies in advance for probably getting the accent/dialect almost completely wrong…

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