Framework Fantasies: modern technology which doesn't work
This month the Crown Prosecution Service had to admit they were not ready to go ahead with Applied Language Solutions (ALS)/Capita contract nationwide, as “more time was needed to complete the tests while Applied is focusing on improving the service it provides in the areas where it is already operating.”
In my opinion, ALS was always pitching "new technology solutions" claiming that the use of technology can solve a lot of present problems and needs, and help streamline and make processes more efficient… A typical modern sales pitch.
What they and those procurement bosses they pitch to fail to understand is that those technology solutions are just too complicated for frontline Criminal Justice Sector users (court listings officers and custody sergeants).
Bookings via a secure online portal, confirmations by e-mail, Geo-location... All trendy, attractive-sounding words. In practice, however, the system is just too complex for rank and file listings officers, who struggled to operate even the NRPSI search database (what could be simpler from the point of view of an average computer literate user).
Part of the problem is that those fancy "new technology solutions" with bells and whistles are just too complicated for rank and file front line CJS staff who on average cannot deal with anything other than picking up the phone and saying "I need interpreter in X language for a morning hearing next Thursday morning".
The ALS system appears to be not just too flashy, it is full of errors and inefficiencies. Otherwise how can you explain wrong language bookings, several same language interpreters turning up in one court and none in the other. I guess, you cannot expect anything else from a set-up when you deal with various call centres overseas and a bunch of project coordinators knowing nothing about how the court system works or specifics of public service interpreting.
Efficiency seems to have failed on the technical level too. Or how can you explain the fact that the MoJ is unable to source basic management information MPs have been asking about in Parliament? Page 98 of the Framework Agreement says:
"The Contractor will provide management reports through the web based portal. The reports will be capable of importing into Excel and will include but not be limited to the following:
- Breakdown of available interpreter numbers by region, language, tier and vetting status.
- Number of new interpreters added per tier per region.
- British Sign Language/Deaf Blind: Monthly breakdown of number of assignments, assignment costs, and travel costs. (Per Collaborative Partner)
- Face to Face: Monthly breakdown of number of assignments per region, per tier, per language, per Collaborative partner plus total price.
- Details of complaints received, upheld, timescale for resolution and outcome. (Per Collaborative Partner)".
If this portal really works, CJS employeers appear to prefer to send requests to ALS techie wizz kids to get this management information out of the portal in a ready form. All this takes time and requires going through the process, and then excuses can be made that it is all too complicated, time-consuming and costly.
If truth be told, any contractor should get it right from the start if it is going to bother introducing a new contract. If this were a private business, not a ministry funded by the tax-payer’s money, the contract would have been shelved ages ago and the chief executive sacked.