Toronto Police struggle to salvage eCOPS project

Toronto Police database eCOPS greatly exceeded its initial budget and delivery date when its handlers rushed a change from off-the-shelf to in-house development, according to the city’s police chief.

The Enterprise Case and Occurrence Processing System (eCOPS), is now in its eighth year and

more than $8 million over-budget. Toronto police forwarded all inquiries about eCOPS to a Sept. 21 report prepared by Police Chief Julian Fantino. The report was presented to the Toronto Police Services Board last week and Toronto’s Auditor General has been asked to investigate further.

The eCOPS project, according to the chief’s report, began in 1996 as a means to implement a new records management system and establish a platform for mobile solutions. A capital budget of $8.8 million was initially approved for the project which was expected to be implemented in 1999.

eCOPS switched gears early in its development when it was determined that no off-the-shelf software would meet the needs of the Toronto police and that an in-house solution was necessary.

In 2001, the Toronto Police Service said that they expected eCOPS to be delivered by the end of the year on IBM’s DB2 database architecture. The “”cruiser to courts”” model would store and unite data, including occurrence and arrest reports, crime analysis and pattern recognition.

eCOPS is still awaiting completion with a total cost of $17.2 million. Delays are being blamed on “”scope creep.””

“”In September 2002,”” Chief Fantino said in the report, “”I met with the project managers. The use of developing technology, unanticipated difficulties and negative feedback from the field were causing the development team to focus on elements that were not part of the original plan.””

“”Scope creep”” isn’t uncommon with these types of development projects, said Howard Grant, principal with Ottawa-based Partnering and Procurement Inc.

“”Software development is incredibly difficult. If it goes wrong, it doesn’t normally go wrong by a few per cent, it generally goes wrong by 50 or more per cent,”” he said.

The key to keeping to original deadlines is to be satisfied with the functionality you have and resist the temptation to develop further to achieve more, he said. Improvements should be saved for a later release. “”That requires very strong project management.””

According to the chief’s report, the original $8.8 million budget was slated for an off-the-shelf application only. When the decision was made to develop in-house, no analysis was conducted to determine if any budget revisions would be necessary.

The report also lists as causes for cost overruns and schedule delays: “”lack of program management infrastructure,”” “”constant changes on delivery strategies,”” and “”lack of communication and training plans.””

Baby Kotlarawsky, IT applications manager for the Ottawa Police Service, said that there are always tough decisions to be made when implementing a new system, regardless of its provenance.

“”Whenever you buy something third party you have to adjust business processes and expectations. There is customization that comes with that. Whenever you are developing in-house, (it) is customized to your business processes and customized the requirements of your organization,”” she said.

“”There was a choice to be made at that time, and my feeling is that (Toronto) had a good business case that they should develop it in-house.””

Ottawa police use an off-the-shelf system from Versaterm for computer-aided dispatch and records management, which was installed pre-Y2K.

The Toronto chief’s report says that current funding is insufficient to complete eCOPS — which has been deployed in a limited fashion to date — but that “”the business case based on the projected and cumulative savings is sound.””

IBM Canada refused comment on the further development of eCOPS, as did one of the project’s subcontractors, RCM Technologies, a N.J.-based company with operations in Toronto and Ottawa. An IBM spokesperson did confirm that Toronto Police have renewed a DB2 licence.

The chief anticipates eCOPS will be in place by the end of the year. The system should eliminate the need for 70 positions with a projected annual savings of $4.1 million. Original estimates were for 150 positions to be eliminated.

As far as projects that have escaped their parameters go, eCOPS isn’t dire, said Grant. The software must be made to deal with information from correctional institutions and the court system, both of which were developed independently.

“”Can we protect the lives of the policemen on the street by getting them better information? If we can, what’s that worth to us? I think you must never lose sight of that,”” he said.

Comment: [email protected]

Workbrain Inc. was erroneously described as a subcontractor on the Toronto Police Services eCOPS project in this space on September 28, 2004. Workbrain is a Toronto-based software developer that worked on the Time Management Resource System (TMRS) for the Toronto Police Service. regrets the error.

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