A spending watchdog has urged Police Scotland to urgently reassess its IT needs after the collapse of a multi-million pound computer project.
The £46m i6 scheme had been expected to result in £200m savings for the force.
An Audit Scotland report into the failure of the project said some benefits of police reform were “at best delayed” as a result.
The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) said the settlement reached with contractors protected public finances.
The report said the i6 scheme to improve how Police Scotland records, manages and analyses information collapsed because of disagreements between the contractors, Accenture, and the government and the police.
Auditor General Caroline Gardner said the computer system’s design meant fundamental flaws only became clear when the system was passed to Police Scotland for testing.
“Within weeks, and despite 18-months of pre-award discussion, Police Scotland and Accenture disagreed about whether the proposed system would deliver the requirements set out in the contract,” the report said.
“Despite delays and serious problems throughout the lifetime of the programme, Accenture provided regular assurance, in the face of strong challenge, about their confidence in delivering the i6 system. This assurance proved misplaced.”
The Auditor General said the method adopted for developing the system meant the full scale of difficulties only became apparent when it was passed to Police Scotland for testing in August 2015.
The contract was terminated in July 2016, with the SPA recouping the £11.09m it had paid Accenture, with a further £13.56m for staff and hardware costs associated with i6.
Ms Gardner said: “Modern policing faces financial and operational challenges.
“Given the role that i6 was to play in police reform, there is an urgent need for a frank assessment of Police Scotland’s IT requirements, and how these can be delivered alongside the vision set out in the recent Policing 2026 draft strategy.”
It had been expected that i6 would have resulted in £200m in efficiency savings over 10 years.
It would have replaced the existing separate IT systems of the eight regional forces which existed prior to the creation of Police Scotland in April 2013, which are still in use.
Areas to be covered would have included recording, managing and investigating crime, compiling warrants and details of missing and vulnerable persons as well as tracking lost and stolen items.
The Auditor General told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme there was no detail on when the previously-promised savings would now be achieved.
Ms Gardner said: “The new Policing 2026 Strategy that was published last week is based on a vision of much more flexible use of technology, allowing officers and staff to do their work wherever they happen to be – not just in the police station.
“But it doesn’t contain a plan for how they are going to achieve and deliver those new IT systems.
“That’s critical for police to be able to do their work, but also to close the very significant funding gap that I have reported on previously.”
‘No financial detriment’
Scottish Police Authority chief executive John Foley said the report acknowledged good practice was followed in the planning and procurement of the i6 programme, and the contractual settlement negotiated by SPA ultimately resulted in no financial detriment to the public purse.
“While policing has no plans to embark again on a single ICT programme as complex and bespoke as i6, there have been a number of improvements made in the last four years that provide greater assurance going forward,” he said.
“Clearly, there are lessons to learn across the public sector on large ICT projects and we look forward to Audit Scotland’s broader findings in May.
“Developing effective ICT solutions in transforming corporate services and improving operational productivity are central to our long term strategy, and we will ensure that any further lessons are considered before implementation plans are finalised.”
Police Scotland said i6 was an important element of the force’s planning, but it was not the only one.
Martin Leven, the director of ICT at Police Scotland, said: “Since 2013, more than 30 national applications have been implemented successfully.
“This includes replacing or upgrading a significant amount of out-dated hardware and real progress has been made towards the delivery of a new national network and standardised modern national desktop computers.
“Within six months of the decision to end i6 a new National Custody System was successfully launched across the country which was one of the key requirements of the i6 project.”