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 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 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 estimated cost of $17.2 million. Delays are being blamed on “”scope creep.””

“”In September 2002,”” 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 generally goes wrong by 50 or more per cent.””

The key to meeting original deadlines is to be satisfied with the functionality you have, he said. Improvements should be saved for a later release.

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.””

Tough decisions with new system

Baby Kotlarawsky, IT applications manager for the Ottawa Police Service, said 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.

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

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