Problems plague EDS project for UK agency

A child-support case management and telephony system that’s expected to cost the U.K. government US$806.5 million over 10 years is in danger of being unplugged if the agency overseeing the project can’t fix technical and operational problems within the next few months.

The implementation involves a Java-based application that was developed by Electronic Data Systems Corp. for the U.K.’s Child Support Agency (CSA), which oversees the assessment and collection of child-support payments from parents who have separated. The project also includes a companion call centre system built by BT Group PLC’s consulting and systems integration unit.

The mixed system, which went live 18 months ago, was the subject of a damning report issued in July by the British Parliament’s Select Committee on Work and Pensions, the legislative body that’s charged with oversight of the CSA.

The complaints about the system include missed rollout deadlines, an inability to add new cases and migrate existing ones to the system, and an “appalling level of service” on telephony, the report said. It noted that about 170,000 child-support cases need to be entered into the system and that the backlog is growing by 30,000 cases each quarter.

The report added that the case management and telephony systems don’t work well together, resulting in calls “being routed to the wrong place and cases disappearing from the caseworker’s screen as staff try to answer a telephone inquiry.”

In the report, the committee recommended that the telephony system be abandoned and replaced if it isn’t fully functional by May.

The panel also said that a contingency plan should be readied if the application built by EDS can’t fully process new cases by Dec. 1 and the CSA can’t guarantee the ability to migrate existing cases by May.

The CSA is part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which has two months to respond to the recommendations, said Rob Marris, a member of the parliamentary committee. That deadline is flexible, Marris said, but he added that the response will likely be issued next month.

“We are not saying the system should be abandoned come December,” Marris said. “What we are saying is the government should draw a line in the sand if DWP cannot come up with a guarantee.”

Continuing in Parallel

Because of the technical problems, the CSA is continuing to run its older applications in parallel with the new system, which is known as CS2. Some of the agency’s workers still rely solely on the old system, which isn’t fully automated and requires heavy use of paper documents. Other employees have been migrated to the new one.

Marris said the troubles on the CS2 project illustrate a general problem with contracts between government agencies and IT services firms. “You don’t have enough experts (within agencies), so you can’t know about and police what the outside supplier is doing,” he said.

A spokesperson for the DWP confirmed via e-mail that there “have been technical problems with the IT and telephony systems, which we are working on with our supplier, EDS.”

Plano, Tex.-based EDS declined to comment this week, except to reiterate a statement it issued in late July. “While there have been problems with several aspects of the program, the DWP-EDS team is executing a joint plan to resolve the outstanding IT and business issues,” Tom Warsop, managing director of the DWP account for EDS, said in the statement. “The IT system is now delivering a robust service and is constantly improving.”

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