ICT plays a critical role in supporting the policing and security services provided to the State and its people by An Garda Síochána. ICT services must be robust, secure and, in many cases, available 24-7 to ensure we are in a position to provide an effective service.
A large number of policing and security services processes are dependent on ICT. These include the management of the emergency 999 communications control centre; incident recording; criminal investigations; fingerprints; registration of EU nationals; and international policing and security co-operation and information exchange.
In addition, ICT is being increasingly used in new ways to support the organisation’s daily activities in areas such as strategic planning, data analysis and modelling of the organisation and its functions.
In delivering such services, An Garda Síochána has always been very conscious of the need to ensure the ICT budget available to it is maximised and is invested in a cost effective manner. Despite its capital budget being reduced by 50% as a result of the recession and the level of staffing being below those of other Departments, the Garda ICT department has successfully delivered a number of major projects, such as the TETRA radio communications network, e-vetting and an automated number plate recognition system that have enhanced the delivery of policing and security services.
Delivering these kinds of new services, as well as maintaining ICT services to an organisation of more than 15,000 people who work in a very complex environment, would not have been possible without a comprehensive approach to governance and project management.
In line with other public sector bodies, the annual Garda ICT budget is approved by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, OGCIO. Annual ICT expenditure is reviewed regularly in that given year by the executive director of Garda ICT. In addition, it is subject to review by the ICT governance board, which is chaired by the chief administrative officer, and includes representatives from the Departments of Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform. The ICT governance board meets on a quarterly basis.
A key element of the organisation’s modernisation and renewal programme is the need to upgrade, replace and develop new ICT systems. In taking on these initiatives, An Garda Síochána faced the challenge of progressing ICT projects where the number of people employed in ICT is significantly lower than in similarly sized public sector organisations. As a result, and, additionally, in order to maintain critical policing and national security ICT systems on a 24-7, 365 days a year basis, it was necessary for the ICT department to avail of a very significant level of external skilled resources.
By their nature, given the range of ICT services to be provided and supported, contracts with suppliers can be very complex. The skilled resource contract with the largest provider of external resources to the organisation commenced in 2009. The contract has been rolled over to ensure the continued operation of ICT services and, given the complex nature of the procurement required, An Garda Síochána engaged the assistance of a specialist ICT service to assist developing a procurement approach which would maximise competition opportunities. A series of tenders have issued, with more currently progressing, and contracts with a number of different suppliers have been awarded. Over this period, the cost of the existing contract was carefully managed, with the average cost per resource decreased by 8%.
The report by the Garda internal audit service raised a number of issues, which are being addressed. For instance, since last year, all external staff working under the skilled resource contract in ICT are subject to the Garda electronic time recording system.
Since receiving the approval from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to use the Office of Government Procurement, OGP, framework to tender for new skilled resources, a series of procurement competitions have commenced. To maximise competition options, the existing contract has been broken into five tenders for different services, namely, ICT service desk provision; IT operations; ICT security; ICT application development; and support for the strategic transformation office. These tenders are at different stages of the procurement process. Subject to the outcome of the five tender processes, which are independent and operate via open competition, we would anticipate that reliance on a single provider in this area will significantly reduce.
Over the past year, the number of inhouse skilled resources in ICT has begun to increase and will increase further in the coming years. Increased numbers and skills, combined with new structures in the ICT department, will reduce the level of dependency overall on external contractors.
On the matter of agreed rates, all rates are contained in the master services agreement and annual project documents. There are no verbally agreed rates.
In addition, the internal audit service raised the issue of pre-payments. The decision to apply prepayments is in line with the overall Garda budgeting process and has resulted in a 5.5% discount.
To conclude, ICT plays a fundamental role in An Garda Síochána providing a service that protects and supports communities. We fully recognise the need to ensure that investment in ICT is in line with public procurement rules and provides value for money. Our approach to breaking-up the skilled resources contract will assist us in this and our focus on increasing the number of our personnel working in ICT will reduce our overall reliance on external contractors.