Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, today reported to Parliament on how the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)1 successfully avoided millennium-compliance problems when replacing its computerised vehicles system, although the project took twice the anticipated timescale to complete.
The report details the project management problems encountered by the DVLA in replacing its twenty-five year old Vehicles database system with a bespoke product developed by Electronic Data Systems Ltd (EDS)2 The Agency opted in mid-October 1999 to implement the final phase of the replacement system, as it expected the old master record system would develop millennium-compliance failures that would have had serious implications for the DVLA’s statutory operations. However, at that time the associated Information Technology (IT) Disaster Recovery Plan had not yet been fully tested. Nevertheless, Sir John was able to issue an unqualified audit opinion on the Agency’s 1999-2000 accounts.
The £5 million, fixed-price contract to replace the Agency’s Vehicle computer system by a phased implementation was originally expected to take two years, and was planned to be completed by October 1998. The report highlights a number of issues in the management of this project.
- The project’s last implementation phase slipped to March 1999 and then to August 1999. The Agency had drawn up contingency plans in case both the new and existing vehicle computer systems failed, but these fallback measures mainly relied upon manual processing by up to 400 temporary staff. Since the DVLA could not guarantee to handle the volume of work manually, this would have led to a serious disruption of customer services. The final phase implementation avoided this.
- When the ‘go-live’ decision was taken, several project elements had yet to be fully or successfully tested, including the processing of some refunds of excise duty to vehicle keepers, the licensing of fleet vehicles and the operation of the IT Disaster Recovery Plan. This Plan has still not been fully tested, and Sir John considers that it should be finalised and testing completed urgently. EDS are planning this for completion in October 2001.
- In the new system’s first year of operation a number of problems arose, particularly with the timely processing of excise duty refunds to vehicle keepers, for which a three-day backlog of some 100,000 cases had developed by January 2000.
- Sir John also noted that during the Christmas period 1999 some instances of corrupt data had been downloaded to the Police National Computer, although no evidence was found of any wrongful arrests or legal action based on this incorrect data. EDS was able to resolve the problem in January 2000. A further significant risk to enforcement activities was averted when the DVLA’s manual controls detected that the printing procedures had generated some 100,000 duplicate marks for issue to motor dealers.
- The contract for the replacement vehicles system entitled EDS to submit claims for stage payments despite the significant project delays. It was August 1998 before EDS acknowledged that it could not meet the planned ‘go-live’ date of 1 October 1998. By June 1998 EDS had claimed 85 per cent of the monies due at that point, but the Agency was retaining some £560,000 against undelivered products or functions. The Agency also retained £200,000 (4 per cent) of the project value until final completion in October 2000.
However, Sir John noted that the DVLA had successfully avoided spiralling project costs by holding EDS to the fixed price and also by negotiating reductions in the associated running costs of the project provided by EDS.