Justice ministry begins fixing error-ridden Courts system

The Ministry of Justice has begun addressing faults in the Department for Courts' case management system, delivering one major update last week and preparing another for August.

The Ministry of Justice has begun addressing faults in the Department for Courts’ case management system, delivering one major update last week and preparing another for August.

The case management system developed over three years for Courts — now part of the ministry — showed many of the classic shortcomings identified in delayed, over-budget and abandoned projects, according to two reports written last year and released this month under the Official Information Act.

These are the post-implementation review, conducted by KPMG, and an “impact assessment” by consultancy Moxon Partners, done earlier at Courts’ own request.

At intervals throughout its evolution the case management system (CMS) was stoutly defended by Courts’ spokespeople against rumours that all was not well (Courts close-mouthed on case management progress; Courts system rolls on out).

Yet the KPMG report details a wealth of basic errors, beginning with the “lack of a specific business case” for implementing the system at all. Some benefits and drivers of CMS were identified early on in a strategic business plan, but the lack of a clearer document “makes it almost impossible to determine the original vision [and] outcomes that CMS was intended to deliver”, says KPMG.

The Moxon report says that, as of September last year, 11 out of 27 benefits expected to have been conferred by CMS or revised business processes had not been realised — despite the fact that the system was already operational in a large number of courts.

The ministry says in a statement that it “has two major tranches of work under way with CMS functionality improvements, many of which are aimed specifically at addressing the ‘crosses’ in the Moxon report.

“The first tranche has just been completed and was released to Courts [on Monday April 19]; the second tranche is under development and is scheduled for release in August. We then intend to undertake an assessment of the impact of these changes early next year.”

District courts general manager Tony Fisher declined to be interviewed, Computerworld being referred to a media release quoting him. The release details further improvements such as the prioritisation and processing of 566 currently active change requests, improvements to document templates and “the usability of rostering and scheduling”. Defect correction and “the removal of workrounds” is also under way.

CMS had many other faults.

Governance of the project and its key processes was also inadequate, the KPMG report says.

“There was no single consistent template or standards for a functional specification”. Project management controls, roles and responsibilities were also judged “inadequate”.

The vendor contracted to perform the work, Datacom, had, for example, made fundamental architectural decisions without signoff from the governance committee, says KPMG.

Timelines were not met and resources and requirements were underestimated, KPMG says. Interfaces with other systems, such as the Police Law Enforcement System, were wrongly designed, and appreciation of the effect of the system on the workings of other agencies was poor.

The Moxon report says the missed objectives, including fewer adjournments, improved rostering and scheduling of resources, reduced staff time in preparing statistical information and fewer errors are all marked as benefits that “may be realised by CMS in the future”. The exception is “reduced case preparation time”, which the report does not even check off as a possible future benefit.

“Neither the operational model [the business process revisions] nor, more importantly, CMS, are currently viewed as having reduced case preparation time,” Moxon comments.

The CMS project began in May 2001 and originally scheduled to go live in all courts and jurisdictions in June 2002. The project incurred several delays and CMS was finally implemented in phases from November 2002 to November 2003.

In September last year, as the KPMG report was being delivered, Courts responded to Computerworld’s inquiries about delay with the assertion that “the only challenges faced by the developers were those common to large and complex systems”.

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