Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is the UK’s fifth largest police force, with over 7,000 officers, and around 3,000 civilian staff, whose mission is to ensure the safety and security of a diverse local population of over 2.5 million people, spread over 11 Divisions (plus 6 City of Manchester sub-divisions), 10 specialist units and covering an area close to 1,300 square kilometres.
In 2010, GMP began a near ten-year journey that would see their out-dated computerised crime databases and paper-based systems, including the Operational Policing Unit System (OPUS), and an older system purchased from Northumbria Police, replaced with a new multi-million pound installation that is now widely dubbed as iOPS: An acronym of Integrated Operational Policing System.
Or, less generously, ‘iFLOPS’. The name given to a closed Facebook group where reports of the new system’s many failures could be posted, without fear of reprisal from GMP’s feared Professional Standards Branch (PSB). iFLOPS attracted an astonishing membership of over 1,400 GMP officers in just over two days. A large number of posts revealed genuine fears that lives could be lost whilst iOPS remained in its present dysfunctional state.
OPUS was introduced in, or around, 2004 and has, for the moment, been retained as a read-only database to cover intelligence gaps or inputting errors within iOPS.
The new system would accommodate the force’s ambition to have every front line officer equipped with mobile devices that can link directly with its data and also integrate seamlessly with body worn video footage taken at the scene of incidents. This film would later be used to support prosecution of alleged offenders. The mobile devices would all have eight core policing applications (apps) installed, together with such as Google Maps and Outlook email. Elimination of duplicate entries is said to be a key feature of the new technology.
This critical new capability gives officers the tools and information they need at street level. More crucially, they can, in theory, access and update databases, including the Police National Computer (PNC) whilst out on patrol. The estimated £10.7 million cost was additional to the iOPS software purchase. £1.8 million was paid for the devices the rest was spent was to be spent on training, the policing apps, airtime and data use.
Other forces using the same mobile systems include the Police Service of Northern Ireland; an East Midland collaboration between Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Notts and Northants; Kent Constabulary and Essex Police.
By any measure, conversion to iOPS and the introduction of the mobile devices was an ambitious change project for GMP and forms part of the force’s wider Target Operating Model (TOM).
A version of iOPS is presently in use at four other police forces, including the Metropolitan Police Service and South Wales Police, which was the first to successfully deploy the ControlWorks system in 2015. A comprehensive, easy to follow overview of iOPS can be read here. On paper, at least, it looks highly functional, effective and efficient.
In September 2013, two senior GMP officers, believed to be the then chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, and one of his assistant chiefs, Garry Shewan, reported to Tony Lloyd, at the time the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, that the contract for a £30 million overhaul of GMP’s computer systems should be given to professional services giant EY, formerly Ernst and Young, without inviting rival contractors to bid for the work.
By that time, EY had already been paid £300,000 by GMP for preparatory work to scope the merits of introducing a single new system, which would unify the existing GMP databases, transfer them to a virtual infrastructure (Cloud), and allow officers to access key information whilst out on patrol or responding to incidents.
In the event, the PCC couldn’t countenance such a large contract being effectively handed to a single favoured contractor and, quite correctly, ordered that the project be put out to tender:
“GMP needs to have an IT system that is fit for the 21st century. The current system is in need of radical overhaul.
“In the current financial climate, a major piece of investment like this has to be done correctly – failure is simply not an option [Emphasis added].
“Following the initial scoping work that has been done by EY, a delivery partner now needs to be appointed to work with GMP to drive this project forward.
“I’ve decided that the right thing to do is to appoint that partner organisation through a competitive tendering process. This demonstrates transparency and also allows us to test the market so that the system developed will not only represent best value for money, but is also of the highest quality.
“An open [tender] process also minimises risk to the project of delay by legal challenge and enables us to see how we can work in partnership with industry experts to develop a system that will equip GMP to provide the best possible service to the people of Greater Manchester.”
GMP now say iOPS is part of a wider information services transformation programme initially budgeted at £60 million: Double the original figure of £30 million approved by Mr Lloyd.
The software designer who succeeded in the tender process is the Capita Group, and consultants appointed to manage the installation were, indeed, EY, who had, of course, already carried out the scoping work. It is reported that GMP commissioned the ControlWorks and PoliceWorks elements of the trademarked Capita system. The status of the EvidenceWorks part of the system in GMP is not known, at present. This usually involves, at the very least, replacing ageing and increasingly unreliable two deck tape recorders with digital devices and associated technology.
In its promotional materials, Capita boasts that it has been a supplier of mission-critical solutions to law enforcement agencies for over 30 years – and works closely with clients to support evolving operational requirements and future business needs in policing, namely; providing mobile access to data for responding officers, data sharing with partners and truly multi-channel, two-way communication links between the force and the public.
Capita’s portfolio, they say, directly addresses core policing needs to deliver a public-facing, locally-based, modern and intelligence-driven service. Capita’s products and services are proven to help reduce operational risk, deliver a better service to the public and increase the effectiveness of operations.
But during the present iOPS crisis in Greater Manchester Police not a single word has been heard from their company about what have been described in the local press as ‘catastrophic’ failures. Enquirers are directed to GMP statements on the topic.
The relationship between Capita and GMP dates back many years, with GMP being the first force in the UK to outsource support for Airwave (the now outdated national police radio communication system) to a third party supplier. The two organisations, they say, developed an excellent working relationship over the years and built a strong, trusting partnership. The Capita team is based on site at GMP’s radio workshops to enable them to work closely with force employees and officers. As part of this service, Capita provides mobile radio engineers who are deployed when required to support vehicle radio incidents. Technical advice is also provided for hand-held and vehicle radio assets, and control room first line enquiries. GMP’s control rooms are also supported by a 24/7 regional field service team.
The police’s project leader for the IS Transformation Programme was Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan; assisted at that time by Chief Superintendent Chris Sykes (pictured below), since promoted to assistant chief constable, project leader and lead spokesperson. Another key member of the IS team is Assistant Director, Bill Naylor, involved in the programme at a senior level since 2011 and leading teams of up to 95 officers on associated projects. The officer responsible for delivery of training was recently retired inspector, Richard Easton. Unusually, there is no operational codename for the project, according to GMP’s press office.
Details of the IS Transformation Programme tender process, via open source, are sparse. There did not appear to be any media coverage of the outcome. A copy of the contract award, dated 25th November, 2015 can, however, be read here. But, apart from naming the four successful project ‘partners’ (Capita Secure Information Solutions Ltd; Accenture Ltd; Intergraph (UK) Ltd and Northgate Public Services (UK) Ltd), and giving the values of the lowest and highest bids (£7 million and £25 million) it reveals very little more apart from the fact that the lowest bid was not chosen. The box for ‘the most economically advantageous’ is ticked. There were 14 bids, in total, for the four different contracts awarded. [The sharp-eyed might notice that Intergraph was wrongly referred to as ‘Integraph’ in the Decision Notice].
In May 2017, reportedly a year late, GMP issued a £17m pre-tender to overhaul and transition its data centre services to a virtualised infrastructure. Several potential suppliers were sought to express interest in the contract.
According to GMP’s tender documents, virtualisation techniques were being sourced as a means to transform large sections of the force’s existing infrastructure that is built around ageing in-house technology.
“[The proposed contract] will provide a managed service to support and maintain such services and facilitate the migration of the services to alternative locations if required,” said the pre-tender notice.
“GMP is committed to improving technology to enable staff to work more effectively and efficiently, the IS Transformation Programme (ISTP) have, and will continue to introduce new technology to support core operational policing,
“This includes how users will experience IT as part as their roles alongside building a better IT infrastructure to be more dependable and flexible in the future.”
Enquiries are ongoing to discover the name of the successful contractor and the amount tendered. It is not clear at this stage if the GMP migration to Cloud-based data storage was linked to the wider 43-force Microsoft Azure transformation that now falls under the National Enabling Programmes. For which BT and Deloitte have been awarded lead contracts (read more here).
iOPS was scheduled to go live in November, 2017. Two years after the contract award. The business case for the new system required cost savings to come on stream shortly after that date. By that time it had already been beset with serious issues, necessitating software re-writes. These mainly involved the flawed transfer into the new system of millions of records, stretching back over 40 years relating to crimes, convictions, suspects and victims.
An external audit of GMP’s finances, shortly before the intended launch, warned that the plan to go live with the all the component parts of the new information system, in the same moment, was a high risk strategy. They also noted that the problems already identified were responsible for a budget excess, but GMP was looking to claw back the overspend from the contractors. On-time delivery was central to the force’s cost saving plan.
Grant Thornton wrote to the Chief Constable and the Mayor’s office saying: “GMP has decided to go for the ‘same day’ approach to implementation proposed in the iOps deployment approach and recently signed off by the Organisational Change Board (OCB)”.
“It will be important to ensure that the planning, testing and readiness assessment are robust given the inherent risk of this approach.”
The Grant Thornton report also featured robust advice from an independent IT adviser and consultant, Gerry Pennell OBE, who warned it was ‘critical’ that the system was thoroughly tested, and staff properly trained, before it was launched.
“Given the ‘big bang’ nature of the deployment, and the scale of the impact on GMP’s operation and its criticality, I would counsel that considerable thought is given to ‘operational proving’ before going live,
“I appreciate that there are some real logistical challenges in standing up an effective operational testing/rehearsal opportunity. However, those challenges need to be balanced against the risk of encountering major operational issues when going live.”
Mr Pennell, also expressed concern the force ‘does not have adequate involvement with iOPS from a technical perspective’. GMP had made ‘good progress’ in recruitment but there were still ‘some significant gaps’, he said.
An information systems heavyweight, he is presently retained by both the International Olympic Committee and the Cabinet Office, and is a former IT Director at the University of Manchester.
The concern over remoteness of GMP’s own staff from the IS programme was also echoed by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies in their 2018 PEEL assessment.
When asked about ‘operational proving’, a GMP spokesperson said: “Prior to launching, we carried out extensive testing to ensure all new systems were usable and fit for purpose.
“We were continually engaged in a range of testing activity throughout 2018 and up to the launch date. It was unfeasible to carry out a live pilot of our new systems for operational and logistical reasons, which is clearly acknowledged and anticipated in the independent advice provided to us.”
There were also dark rumblings at that time, from insiders, about serious data breaches, with unauthorised personnel allegedly able to view the crime records. GMP denied any breach, as a reflex reaction, but the Information Commissioner’s Office was not contacted and no investigation took place.
March, 2018 was mooted by GMP as the revised go-live date, but this deadline came and went and was notable only for the departure of ACC Shewan a short time before. He had given indication of his retirement on 24th December, 2017 in a short message on Twitter; there was no valediction from his senior colleagues, including Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, when he left; nothing in the local press: Shewan just vanished, or so it seemed, with just a Twitter posting on 21st February, 2018 that read: ‘So the day has arrived….these 4 little things (epaulettes, warrant card, name badge) have dominated my life for over 30 years and today I get to hand them back for someone else to enjoy. They physically weigh ounces but without them I feel so much lighter. Thank you my friends for your love and support’.
A very short time after he left GMP, a company was incorporated bearing the name Garry Shewan Consulting Limited, with a retired police officer as its only director (read Companies House records here).
On his LinkedIn profile, Garry Shewan makes the remarkable claim that he is a ‘highly skilled strategic change leader who has led a wide range of transformational programmes including the delivery [emphasis added] of a unique £60million IS Transformation Programme – transforming operational policing, re-thinking the use of data & digital applications, and delivering significant business improvements.’
Set against the facts that iOPS has been repeatedly described in the local press as ‘a disaster’ or ‘catastrophic’ and on television as ‘a health and safety risk both to the public and police officers’ it can be inferred that the core of Shewan’s claims are not true. Not least because the system did not go live until 9th July, 2019, 17 months after he left the force; it is still not ‘delivered’ in September, 2019 and remains beset by serious problems.
What the Shewan LinkedIn profile does not mention is that he is currently employed by a company that he was actively promoting during his time as a serving police officer, Mutual Gain Ltd. Also a strong proponent of the insidious Common Purpose, he has been absent from Twitter since 10th August, 2018. Two days after the scandal broke on regional television and in the local press. He, again, repeats the claim that he ‘delivered’ the £60 million techology programme in his Mutual Gain bio.
At the end of March 2018, GMP had admitted to the local newspaper that the iOPS budget had been exceeded, but refused to say by how much. The budget figure for the overarching IS Transformation Programme was reported to have increased from £60 million to £66 million. The launch date, they said, was ‘several months away’. 10,000 police officers and staff who had already been trained on the new system were asked to do virtual refresher training as a result of the delay. The ‘bugs and defects’ of November, 2017 had now become ‘data quality issues’, according to GMP.
There was little in the way of further news about the long-overdue launch of the new computer systems until late July, 2019. An article in the Manchester Evening News revealed that GMP had gone live earlier that month (on the 9th). It also disclosed a raft of serious problems highlighted by police officer whistle blowers who had contacted the local newspaper (read the article here). The force said the installation was ‘progressing well’ and there was no risks associated with response, front line officers said its failings were ‘catastrophic’ and they were ‘working blind’.
GMP did concede, however, that there were problems associated with the interface with the Crown Prosecution Service: “We have experienced some issues with regards to processing court case files, however we are working around-the-clock with our suppliers to resolve this as a priority. We have appropriate contingency plans in place while this issue is ongoing, to ensure the administration of justice continues”.
This turned out to be another GMP lie, as criminal defence solicitors and police whistleblowers were still coming forward weeks later to say that GMP’s Criminal Justice Unit was in complete meltdown and 90% of case files were either incomplete or not sent to the CPS.
The nature and extent of the iOPS scandal reached a far wider public on 8thAugust, 2019 when a further MEN article, and a seven minute ITV Granada Reports package that led their evening transmission, appeared within a few hours of one another. Central to the TV broadcast was a leaked email sent to all GMP officers from the rank of chief inspector down to constable. It warned of serious safety risks to officers and the public arising from iOPS failures.
They produced a furious response from the force, and in particular the chief constable, Ian Hopkins, which included an extraordinary, public attack on journalist, Matt O’Donoghue, via Twitter. Hopkins followed that up with a formal complaint to his employers, ITV Granada.
The police chief has since had good cause to regret both as he has come under repeated, and well-aimed, fire from the author of this piece, Neil Wilby, the MEN’s Jennifer Williams, an increasing number of police whistleblowers, and a number of politicians and senior public officials in the region. These include, Anne Coffey who believes the new computer system is putting children at risk. A view later endorsed by every Children’s Director across Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs.
The default position of CC Hopkins, and the GMP press office, has been to consistently downplay the problems with the new system and infer that the very many police officers who have contacted journalists and whistleblowers, to air their concerns, are either at fault with their own lack of understanding of the new system or are disgruntled trouble causers. In the meantime, the local newspaper published seven articles on the iOPS topic within one month, some of them lengthy and highly forensic. The latest, and most wordy, that summarises most of the matters in issue, can be read in full here.
What was revealed, however, in the course of the tense exchanges between the press and police was that the force conceded that the latest budget figure for the IS Transformation Programme was now £71.2 million. The uplift from £60 million, then £66 million is, as yet, unexplained. The force has also, at the same time, retreated from its position in March, 2018, when they said that the iOPS part of the transformation had exceeded its £27 million budget, and have now repeated several times that it is still within the original budget. Again, that is unexplained.
Insiders have reported that the current overall figure is nearer £77 million than 71, and that the force, in keeping with the overall media strategy, is downplaying the budget over-run.
Towards the end of August, 2019 support for iOPS and Chief Constable Hopkins appeared on social media for the first time, during a period notable only for the complete absence of any mention of the iOPS system on any of the many hundreds of authorised GMP Twitter accounts. A civilian communications officer turned iOPS trainer, Stephen Blades, began attacking the most notable critics of the failed computer system: Journalist Neil Wilby, and police whistleblowers that included Peter Jackson and Scott Winters. Hiding behind the Twitter handle of @TheGourmetGays he derided its critics, and in the case of the latter two, falsely accuses them of being homophobes.
Blades’ take on the crisis is this: ‘Folk [police officer users of iOPS] haven’t got a clue, because they refuse change, refuse to learn, refuse to embrace something that replaced a 25 year old system and basically now feel inadequate. But they also refuse to get more training. It’s that simple’.
On iOPS itself, he is equally emphatic: ‘It’s effective, it’s stable, it works and it ain’t going away. As a Command and Control system it’s phenomenal’.
Given the strident nature of his social media commentary, and his assertion in other tweets that he has worked on the system every day since 2017, some merit has to be attached to Stephen Blades’ current, and very public, estimate of the total cost of the IS Transformation Programme: £80 million.
What is not explained by Blades in his permanently aggressive Twitter output is how he made the transition from call handler, at the very bottom of the GMP food chain, to being responsible for training 3,000 officers. Especially, as he doesn’t know the difference between ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’.
It might also provide an explanation as to why the quality of the iOPS training, and its delivery, is one of the recurring criticisms of a system that the Police Federation, representing 6,000 warranted police men and women, say is a risk to the safety of all their officers and members of the public.
This is a certainly a story with plenty of mileage left in it. It will be interesting to see whether Chief Constable Hopkins (and Mr Blades) is there to see the end of the journey.
Just as interesting is the prospect of a forensic inspection of the estimates, and actual costs, of the technology transformation. How can a £30 million project in 2013 become an £80 million (and rising) project in 2019, a rise of over £8 million per year?
The man who signs the cheques, Mayor Andy Burnham, cannot say he wasn’t warned of the impending disaster. On 6th August, 2018 three whistle blowers met him at Churchgate House, Manchester and iOPS was one of a number of scandals that serving officer Paul Bailey, and retired officers Peter Jackson and Maggie Oliver highlighted. Burnham has since, after a long delay, contemptuously brushed away the many GMP failings (read more here).
He, too, may not see the end of this particular road as he attempts to explain away his failings to voters in the Mayoral election in May 2020.
The press office at GMP has been asked to confirm the latest budgets for (i) the overarching IS Transformation Programme (ii) the iOPS element of that programme (iii) the mobile device roll-out (iv) the virtualisation of the force’s data stores.
Right of reply has been offered to Stephen Blades and Garry Shewan.
Page last updated: Thursday 5th September, 2019 at 1355 hours
Photo Credits: Capita Secure Information Solutions Ltd and Greater Manchester Police
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