In the face of growing perceived threats to security and defence the e-Borders project was conceived to “create a joined-up modernised intelligence-led border control and security framework” tracking passengers as they travelled to our shores by air, rail or sea, collecting pertinent data on them prior to their arrival here.
The system would have allowed for passenger details to be checked against police, immigration and security watch lists to identify threats.
In 2007, the then Labour government signed an agreement worth some £750m with Raytheon Systems to assist in the development of a £1.2bn e-Borders programme. But just three years later, despite escalating international threats, the government cancelled the agreement.
According to Theresa May, the “Cancellation of this contract has cost the taxpayer £259.3 million, including £195 million in supplier costs”. When discussing the reasons for the cancellation it was said that: “Key milestones had been missed and parts of the programme were running at least a year late. Raytheon Systems Ltd had been in breach of contract since 2009.”
Fast forward to 2016 and a report delivered by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has slammed the UK Home Office for its “botched” e-Borders programme. The report states that it will cost taxpayers over £1bn and will still fail to deliver the desired end results.
At the outset, the plan was for the project to be delivered by 2017 (within ten years), but this new report from PAC estimates that the project will in fact be delivered up to eight years late. So where have the challenges been, and why such a delay?
With some tranches of work allegedly running up to a year behind, it would at first glance seem as though Raytheon Systems was the party at fault. What’s interesting to note, however, is that the PAC found that it was in fact the government’s own ‘unrealistic’ expectations, business case and ‘evolving needs’ that were to blame for the delays.
According to the report:
“A major reason for this delay was the termination by the Department in 2010 of its e-Borders contract with Raytheon. This had required Raytheon to deliver its own solution to meet the Department’s objectives to a fixed price and timescale which turned out to be unrealistic as government had detailed and evolving requirements, and wanted high assurance that the proposed solution would work. The Department was emphatic that our borders are secure. However, the Department needs to accept that its assertion that it checks 100% of passports is both imprecise and unrealistic due to the complexity of our border.”
What’s more, Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Hillier said:
“This is an important Report, revealing a history of poor management and a worrying complacency about its impact on taxpayers.
It is accepted that successful completion of this project is essential to the security of our international borders. Yet the original target date has long passed and we are still at least three years away from delivery. The stop, start approach has cost the taxpayer dear.
I am careful to say ‘at least’ three years from delivery because we are not convinced warnings about the progress of this project have been treated with sufficient gravity, nor that sufficient action has been taken to prevent a repeat of past problems.”
The report itself goes on to say that:
“Since 2010 the Major Projects Authority has issued seven warnings about these programmes. The Department’s complacency about progress to date increases our concerns about whether the programme will be completed by 2019 as the Department now promises, and whether tangible benefits for border security, transport carriers and passengers will result.”
In light of these findings, one has to wonder whether a better outcome might have been achieved if Raytheon Systems were retained and both parties tried harder to make the relationship work in the first instance.
The contract included provisions to agree a partnering protocol for how the Department and Raytheon would work together which might have salvaged the situation, but these were never implemented.
According to the report’s conclusions the e-Borders programme will be delivered eight years late and will cost significantly more than expected. It states that:
“Former and current officials were worryingly dismissive that these warnings and concerns suggested fundamental problems… It is difficult to understand where this confidence had come from, given the lengthy delays and continual warnings of ongoing management issues, which gives us cause for concern about the future prospects for this programme which is vital to national security.”
The former CEO of the UK Border Agency had “acknowledged that the contract with Raytheon had failed…’ but said “…she had not supported the decision to terminate the contract and believed that many of the required capabilities for border control had been delivered by 2010”.
To summarise, the report states: “no-one has accepted responsibility for this”.
The report then concludes that: “…the Department should set out what it expects to deliver in 2016, who will be responsible for delivering it, and report back to us in January 2017 on what has been achieved.”
Lack of benchmarking and performance monitoring
Also raised as a concern is the fact that: “The Department does not have a clear picture of the management information it has or needs to manage the UK border which is hindering its operations.”
This is further clarified:
“The Department told us it checks 100% of passports at the border, but this is not the case… The nature of the UK border is such that we cannot expect 100% of passports to be checked, but the Department does not estimate the percentage of unchecked passports to determine what risks these pose nor does it adequately measure the quality of the data it holds on individuals travelling to the UK and on those of interest to the UK government.”
Also noted was that: “Continual changes in senior management have hindered the successful delivery of these programmes.”
This is made worse still when the report reveals that:
“A common theme in our reports and those of the previous committee has been a failure to keep people in the job long enough to take responsibility for seeing projects through, or managing them until a particular phase has been completed. This issue has been particularly acute for these programmes. The e-Borders programme and its successors have had eight programme directors including five in the critical years before signing the Raytheon contract. Turnover at junior levels has been similarly high, leading to frustration for transport carrier representatives who told us how constant staff changes meant consultations had to be started from scratch and explanations of industry concerns repeated. Senior staff turnover also makes it harder to hold individuals to account for delivering these programmes as each change inevitably leads to changes in approach. This problem looks set to continue. The current director of the border systems portfolio, identified by the National Audit Office as a key member of the programme’s leadership team for his experience of delivering technical programmes, is leaving in 2016 after just 16 months in post. Neither the remaining programme director nor the Senior Responsible Officer have been with the programme for long.”
Governance: An ill-considered approach
According to the report: “The Department adopted a commercial approach for the e-Borders contract that could not cope with the challenges it faced.”
“Neither party recognised that this was unrealistic in a situation where government had detailed and evolving requirements and demanded high assurance… guidance from the National Audit Office and HM Treasury available by 2007… was clear that requirements were likely to evolve in large-scale IT projects like e-Borders and commercial structures needed to allow for this… In the last six months the Department says it has introduced a more incremental and modular approach to delivering the programme but concerns remain and it is not yet clear if this approach will lead to successful delivery.”
This leads us to believe, in line with the comments on a lack of information, accountability, management and retained expertise, that governance of the e-Borders project was and still is a problem. It would be hoped that after terminating the contract with Raytheon Systems, some lessons from the period should have been learned and applied to the future direction of the programme to prevent further problems. It would appear that instead, the problems were compounded, increasing costs and the delay from just one year under Raytheon to eight years under subsequent ‘successor’ programmes.
In all large major projects, stakeholder management is particularly important. At the very least, goodwill between major parties helps to ‘grease the wheels’, allowing for faster, more positive decision-making, culminating in commercial trust.
The PAC report revealed that: “Throughout the programme the Department has underestimated the importance of securing the co-operation of other government agencies.”
The PAC also appreciate the value of good stakeholder management stating that it “was a crucial success factor for these programmes as they needed to collect information from over 600 rail, sea and air transport carriers. We were told that the Department did not fully recognise the diversity of the industry… Carriers told us that their early feedback to the Department on how to deliver these programmes was not reflected in Raytheon’s actions and that they were often made to feel as if they were being difficult.”
If there’s one redeeming point, it is that: “Since the e-Borders period, stakeholder relationships have improved significantly, and we heard how the Department was working with carriers to help them provide the data required. However… co-operation is currently uncosted and taken for granted.”
But the Home Office has a long way to go as “Beyond transport carriers, the Department also needs to ensure the co-operation of the 30 different government agencies that supply data on persons of interest.”
What can we learn from the struggles experienced in the e-Borders Programme?
1. The Vital Importance of Determining, Allocating and Monitoring Responsibility
In any project, clarity around expectations is important. Understanding precisely what is going to be done, when and by whom, helps to ensure that actions are completed in a timely fashion by the most appropriate people. Where responsibilities are not correctly allocated, issues and tasks can ‘fall off the radar’ as operational teams may not view the task or issue as being their job. When enough of these problems remain unattended to, they can combine into a larger and more difficult issue to contend with. Maintaining a log of all deliverables and timescales is also good management practice. Understanding where you are in a project and how you are performing is nigh on impossible if no one seems to know who ought to be doing what. At the very least, all responsibilities and duties should be mapped and allocated so that the correct teams and individuals can take ownership of tasks and problems as and when they arise.
2. Benchmarking and Performance Management
At the very beginning of any project, key performance measures should be clarified and be quantifiable. Without a means to measure performance, the project team will be unable to forecast future milestones, nor will they be able to report on existing progress in any meaningful way to senior management and project sponsors. As many people rely on performance monitoring as an early warning system to indicate when things are beginning to become misaligned, if no, or insufficient, reporting is in place, the underlying issues that can sabotage progress can go ignored. When creating your business case, be sure to choose realistic, representative and quantifiable performance measures that are agreed between all stakeholders. To not do so would be the equivalent of flying blind, an unnecessary risk to take on any project.
3. Go the Extra Mile to Retain Your Good People
Often, high employee turnover can be attributed to a lack of commercial trust between stakeholder groups, a toxic culture, or an ill-defined and poorly managed programme. The problem with excessive employee turnover is that the loss of talented team members is likely to cause delays, loss of programme knowledge, and have a detrimental impact on interdependent relationships. Before starting a programme, be sure to develop a clear and realistic vision alongside a measurable and transparent path to getting there. Once done, make sure the right people are placed on the project and keep them happy, almost at any cost, because their loss could have a significant impact on confidence and the success of the project.
4. Develop contractual governance that is fit-for-purpose
For many years, central government has acknowledged, and offers guidance on the fact, that needs and desired outcomes in complex IT projects will evolve and change – particularly on projects that last for many years. A common issue on these projects is that often they were contracted for on the basis that very little would change throughout their lifetime. As we’ve seen before, this is a recipe for failure.
Where possible, procurement and project teams must consider the wider implications of their programme and the potential for changes in deliverables or outcomes.
When looking to choose a supplier, it’s vital that the contracts used contain mechanisms that allow for the regular review and alteration of the solution in a way that is neither costly or time-consuming. After contracts have been signed, it’s critical that a well-rounded Intelligent Client Function (ICF) team is formed to oversee the project to ensure that governance is adhered to and that the relationship runs smoothly so that the ‘evolving’ mechanisms within the contract can be used in the best ways possible.
5. Keep your stakeholders happy
Large and complex projects will be made up of an intricate web of interdependencies between internal departments, supplier-side teams and in some cases, external organisations and entities. In situations like this, the decision-making process can be slow, convoluted and fraught with the potential for misunderstanding. When you add political game playing, misaligned cultures and attitudes, as well as various biases, you might wonder how any of these projects succeed at all.
The key is to try to keep everyone happy. As we’ve seen from the PAC report, those involved in the management of the e-Borders project had seemingly taken their stakeholders for granted without fully understanding the value they had to offer the project. This resulted in a solution that is likely to end up not being fit for purpose. If you can build goodwill and commercial trust between the stakeholders involved in your project, you’re likely to discover value-adding insights and support that will help you to succeed in delivering your programme, as opposed to them becoming an obstacle to your progress.
There are a number of tools available to help you. Very early on in the project, be sure to undertake a ‘stakeholder mapping’ exercise detailing exactly who the stakeholders are, alongside their interests, their input, and their strengths – understand how this programme will affect them and design your future communications around their interests. Separately, a communications plan will need to be developed outlining which stakeholder groups will be contacted, by which means and how frequently. On larger projects, you may draw on the support of a communications department to help deliver this effectively.
The tasks above are ultimately the responsibility of the programme manager, but that doesn’t necessarily give them a deeper view into whether the impact of communications is helping to deliver the programme, or to improve its outcomes. According to the MSP, it’s good practice to have a business change manager operating in tandem with the programme manager to ensure that all this activity is in fact helping to deliver the project and the desired benefits. This model helps to ensure that the programme manager isn’t spread to thinly.
If you get your communications and stakeholder management wrong, you can expect something within your programme to go dangerously awry. Get them and the other elements mentioned above right and you considerably increase your chance of success on your projects.