Mystery contractor brought police fines system unstuck

Mystery contractor brought police fines system unstuck

More surreal details continue to surface about a $41 million infringement processing hiccup caused by the NSW Police Service's and Office of State Revenue's fines processing system, with a mystery contractor now carrying the can for the bungle.

According to a NSW Parliament Public Accounts Committee report, a cut-over between a legacy Unix-based transactional police fine processing system to a new infrastructure at Police has resulted in the government legally forfeiting $41 million worth of fines.

The report into the debacle blames a mystery IT contractor - who is currently unable to be located by the state's finest - for problems causing infringement processing to grind to a halt for almost 17 days.

"Senior management within NSW Police suggested that an unidentified contractor mistakenly loaded infringement data onto IMPS (Infringement Management Processing System) and the TPS (Traffic Penalties System), and the systems could not communicate with each other," according to the report.

"The unauthorised duplication of infringement data represents a breach of the Infringement Processing Bureau's internal control systems. Senior [Police] management did not investigate how the control failure occurred, or take steps to prevent future tampering of infringement data," the report found.

Peter Wood, general manager of infrastructure and processing services for NSW Police told the committee he was surprised by the performance of IMPS.

"Unfortunately we found out after the event - some 17 days elapsed with no infringements issued and then all the infringements were issued at once. We had a massive volume of calls as a result...we discovered we had two systems operating

"The advice I received was that someone - and I have never been able to find out who - was unsure whether it was one system or the other, so he or she put it [data] on IMPS...We wrongly took the view that if no one told us there was a problem this was the situation," Woods said. The report also complains that key IT services vendors were shielded from grilling by the Parliamentary Committee, noting that original scoping documents for the IMPS project appear to have been irretrievably lost.

"NSW Police also prevented Accenture, the firm that built IMPS, from providing a submission to the inquiry," the report stated, adding an e-mail from Accenture claimed its contract precluded it from divulging details of the implementation without prior approval from NSW Police.

An e-mail submitted to the Parliamentary Committee from Accenture stated the firm had requested approval to give evidence "from Police but this has not been forthcoming to date".

In terms of how the project got to the stage of losing $41 million, the report noted outsourcer EDS was contracted by NSW Police in 1995 to scope out a "complete Functional Specification for a Conceptual Design", apparently resulting in the production of a business case to overhaul infringement processing.

The job was then passed to the NSW Department of Public Works, which reviewed and refreshed EDS' findings in 1999. Two years later, the firm Coopers Consultants was handed the job of assessing project capability in late 2001. The Office of State Revenue (OSR) finally assumed control of the system in October 2003.

However, since 1995, the scope, volume and brief of the job had changed, coupled with original documentation for the business case going missing. The business case was then replaced by an "abbreviated business case" which has eventually made it into the public domain.

Unfortunately things had changed markedly since 1999 in terms of what the system would have to process, with the volume of transactions more than doubling from 1.7 million to 2.8 million a year causing major infrastructure and scalability headaches for the Unix-based system. OSR infringement processing consultant Colin Brown put it this way:

"The scalability of IMPS and the capacity planning report we have done recommends strongly we move ... to a more scalable architecture. There is this very large single server. If that goes down there are plenty of ... single points of failure ... we would want to go to more redundant architecture. Rather than spending $2.4 million on another large box we can spend $30,000 on one little one, and do it progressively as the volume increases," Brown said.

The Committee has concluded the police ought to investigate whether the mystery contractor "acted outside the scope of the contract" and if so "consider seeking compensation for the losses subsequently incurred" from the hitherto unknown person.

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