UK Border Agency’s breakup blamed on IT, misses the point

The UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that the UK Border Agency, the UKBA, will be broken up.  Part of the blame has been put on the IT systems they use:

“They require manual data entry instead of automated data collection, and they often involve paper files instead of modern electronic case management,” said May. “So I have asked the Permanent Secretary and Home Office Board to produce a new plan, building on the work done by Rob Whiteman, UKBA’s chief executive, to modernise IT across the whole immigration system.”

I have a bit of insight in this area, having worked on projects for the UKBA in the past.

One particular project springs to mind.  My team and I worked closely with a particular department within the UKBA to modernise the systems they were using and align their business processes to the new approach.

We already had a major system in use within the UKBA, so the department would hook in to that platform, but would have their own, custom module.

The solution we built was actually really nice.  I eased what was a difficult, manual process, enabled collaboration, allowed work to be tracked and monitored and reduce mistakes.  We also worked closely with the department in question to ensure it was usable and they could migrate easily from their old system (I forget what technology the old system used, but it was originally written in the 80s and was not fit for purpose).

We built and tested the system.  The users tested it and were delighted.  There was quite a bit of excitement around it’s launch.

Two weeks before launch, the project was pulled.  No good reason was given, but we were led to believe that it was a political move by some senior bods in the UKBA.  They still had to pay for it, and the department we’d worked with went back to their own, outdated, manual and not fit for purpose process.

True story.