Stakeholder case study - Software cannot change behaviour – UK offender management system

By Geoff Reiss
This failed IT system for tracking criminals is a case study in poor Stakeholder and project management. The UK National Offender Management Information System project failed due to shocking mismanagement.
In June 2004, the newly-created National Offender Management Service (NOMS), then part of the Home Office now within the Ministry of Justice, initiated an Information System project (C-NOMIS) to implement a single offender management IT system across both the prison and probation services.
The problem was that some people yo-yoed between jail and probation and moved around the country so the regional systems for keeping track of them failed to work well enough.

C-NOMIS was intended to support a new way of working, known as ‘end-to-end offender management’.

Under end-to-end offender management, each offender is supervised by a single offender manager throughout their sentence, whether it is served in custody or in the community.

The National Offender Management System team (NOMS) underestimated the need to invest in business change alongside the IT system. There are 42 probation areas in England and Wales, each with their own ways of working. NOMS, however, made no sustained effort to simplify and standardise business processes across prisons and probation areas, and did not allocate resource for this purpose. At the outset, NOMS treated C-NOMIS as an IT project rather than a major IT-enabled business change programme. This status increased the pressure on the project team to approve requests for changes and contributed to significant scope creep.

In other words, the people who were to become the users of the new system, the key stakeholders, were facing a new IT system being dumped on them without any understanding of their way of working. The likelihood of the new IT systems fitting in the way the local probation area happened to work were like buses and bus timetables: coincidental at best.

Not only were the probation people expected to work or change the way they work but they were also expected to have a much closer relationship with the local prison management.

Many of the 42 local probation areas just sailed on regardless paying little or no interest in the programme. Meanwhile the budget grew.

Another key group of stakeholders were the suppliers.

The NAO report makes it clear that contractual arrangements with its key suppliers were weak and its supplier management poor. Instead of tendering key project contracts, NOMS opted to use its current suppliers under existing framework agreements to develop and deliver the C-NOMIS application. NOMS allowed these contracts to go forward on a time and materials basis for longer than it should, which meant that there was insufficient pressure on suppliers to deliver to time and cost.

In addition, NOMS’ relationship with its suppliers, particularly EDS (now, deteriorated and it did not make best use of their expertise. Significantly, NOMS did not seek to revise its contractual arrangements with Syscon, the software developers, immediately the extent of the customisation became clear.
Engagement with stakeholders was on an ad hoc basis. Early on, users were given the chance to voice their opinions of the C-NOMIS application and user groups were involved in development of the system requirements. There was little communication with stakeholders on project progress. With project plans failing to schedule engagement activities, many stakeholders were unsure how best to communicate with the project. When delays occurred, many stakeholders only found out at the last minute. NAO, 2009
The programme was ‘re-scoped’, a euphemism for thinking again. Or perhaps thinking for the first time.

This tale is not one of total loss as the NAO does recognise that we do have a better system today than we had. In its summary the NAO said
Overall the C-NOMIS project was handled badly and the value for money achieved by the project was poor. NAO, 2009
Michael Krigsman in ZDNet labelled the UK prison IT programme a disaster.
The UK National Offender Management Information System project failed amid scathing attacks, accusations of mismanagement, and vast budget overruns.Krigsman, M. 2009


Michael Krigsman., 2009. UK Prison IT: Massive and 'spectacular' failure. ZDNet,com, 14 March. Available at:
National Audit Office (NAO), 2009,The National Offender Management Information System. REPORT BY THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL. Available at:

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