An IT project designed to give a single overview of the UK's prisoners has been beset by delays and overspending.
The National Offender Management Information System (C-Nomis) was intended to replace old case-management systems with a single integrated source of real-time information on offenders to be used by prison and probation services.
However, like several government IT projects before it, the C-Nomis project has suffered from budget blowouts, delays and mismanagement, according to the government's spending watchdog.
The C-Nomis system was originally due for rollout in January 2008. Its national go-live date is now expected to be April 2009.
The cost of the project has similarly slipped: the lifetime budget for C-Nomis was originally set at £234m. The projected spend on the system has now risen to £513m, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.
According to the NAO, the National Offender Management Service (Noms) — the body in charge of C-Nomis's development, now part of the Ministry of Justice — underestimated the technical complexity of the project.
"A single offender-database is technically realisable but Noms did not adequately explore other potential solutions and underestimated the cost of customising the software it had already selected for the Prison Service," the report said.
As a result, the cost of software development ballooned from its expected level of £99m in June 2005 to £254m by July 2007 "primarily because of customisation".
The report also blames inadequate oversight by senior management, poor supplier management, failure to grasp the necessary business changes and under-resourcing for the problems with C-Nomis.
"Although technically feasible, C-Nomis was a very ambitious project thought to have the potential to bring much closer working across the criminal-justice system. The desirability of the project's aims appears to have overly influenced decision makers, leading to the failure to evaluate other technical options sufficiently and establish realistic budgets, timescales and governance for the project," the report said.
In late 2007, the scope of C-Nomis was revised with the project two years behind schedule and with estimated lifetime project costs increased to £690m.
Noms is now making "steady progress" on its plan to roll out C-Nomis in the coming months.
"There are currently some delays, with some 60 percent of C-Nomis deliverables two months late, but both the supplier and Noms are confident of delivering the full application by April 2009," the report said.
"Many benefits of the programme are capable of being realised but the key aim of creating a single database of offenders directly accessible by prison, probation and third-party intervention providers responsible for offenders — from sentencing through to resettlement — will not be met," it added.
Prisons minister David Hanson said in a statement: "I thank NAO for the report which is helpful. As soon as the extent of the projected costs and delays to the C-Nomis project were recognised, we took immediate steps to halt the project and consider the most cost-effective way forward which effectively preserved the work done to date.
"The revised programme builds on this work, and steps have been taken to ensure the programme remains on time and in budget. Nomis will support our commitment to ensuring that prison and probation service staff have improved access to the information they need to effectively manage offenders in custody and in the community."