By ADAM GIFFORD
A warts-and-all report on the failed $100 million Incis police computer system points to deficient scoping by the police and communication problems between police and the prime contractor, IBM.
It also says attacks on IBM technologies by supporters of Microsoft, including then-Cabinet minister Maurice Williamson, were factors in the failure to build an "integrated national crime information system" (Incis).
The report is a preliminary draft of a paper by Jim Taylor, a Montreal University emeritus professor of communication, and an information technology expert at the university, Elizabeth Van Every.
It was posted for comment last week on the website of Waikato University's management school, where Taylor was a visiting professor last year.
The report was supported by a grant from the Foundation for Research, Science, and Technology as part of a programme of research on the socioeconomic impacts of information and communications technology.
Incis was supposed to replace the ageing Wanganui computer system as well as give police more flexible and powerful tools for their work.
In late 1991, a steering committee was set up to prepare a scoping report. It included police finance and IT head Don Gray and consultants Martin Carr and David Cittadini from Price Waterhouse.
By the end of 1993, IBM was selected as preferred vendor to build a system, and a contact was signed in October 1994. Incis was estimated to cost $100 million and was due to be operational by the end of 1997.
"In fact, the next three years would be spent in a prolonged re-negotiation of the scope and definition of the projected system," Taylor and Van Every said.
In part that was because the scoping of requirements and feasibility was deficient.
"In fact, it is clear in retrospect that police failed to exploit the precious months preceding the signing of the contract to do the necessary groundwork of discovery. On the threshold of the actual project initiation, they had no staff in place, no provision for housing and recruitment, and had done practically no advanced planning. They were, informants told us, already in breach of contract from the beginning."
After the contract was signed the police appointed a new head of IT, Greg Batchelor, who Taylor and Van Every said was openly critical of the terms of the agreement with IBM.
"Whether or not he was, as it was alleged by some informants, hostile to IBM, we cannot say, but it is clear from the evidence that he was a Microsoft enthusiast."
This made Incis a battleground for the worldwide battle between Microsoft and IBM to set system standards for commercial software development.
This debate was fuelled by Williamson, then Information Technology Minister, "who had met Bill Gates, was an advocate for the Windows NT system, and made his views known quite explicitly to police".
"KPMG was brought in to adjudicate, and it confirmed what the Incis project team already knew, namely that, as things stood in 1993-94, OS/2 was operational and provided a sufficient platform for the technology of the time, while Windows NT was just coming on to the market and had not yet proven its value as a support for a large integrated network."
Taylor and Van Every said Incis was downgraded in the eyes of police management to being "just another project", meaning there was no champion at a senior level.
Indeed, the person delegated in 1993 to be project sponsor was Peter Doone, then deputy commissioner, who up to that point "had made himself mostly notable by his absence in the deliberations of the [Incis] steering committee".
At the end of 1997, when Incis should have been delivered, police and IBM signed a "variation" on the contract which was in effect a new agreement.
Taylor and Van Every said IBM was also going through a big overhaul at this time under new president Lou Gerstner, and "the company's management had begun to view Incis as a disaster in the making".
"Even worse, IBM International was reorganising, and decisions that had previously been made in New Zealand migrated to Australia, where Incis elicited little enthusiasm, or support."
The change of Government in 1999 allowed police and IBM to bring the project to an end. Taylor and Van Every said more than 25 years of research into how new technologies affected organisational practice "has convinced us that the result of implementing a new system is rarely what was expected at the time the project was embarked on".
"In fact, in our experience, Incis does not come even close to rating the prize for the worst failure we have witnessed. It is about average on the disappointment scale (although high on the ambition scale): it produced both less than its promoters hoped (and hyped), but more than its detractors assert."
Most technology failures get screened from the public by management.
IT research firm Gartner estimates that as much as 20 per cent of the US$2.7 trillion ($5.5 trillion) devoted to new technology each year is wasted.
Waikato Management School
By ADAM GIFFORD