NEC loses national biometrics database project

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NEC loses national biometrics database project

Over ongoing delays and cost overruns.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has terminated its contract with NEC Australia for a new national biometrics database after walking staff off the project earlier this month.

In a statement, the agency said it made the decision to “discontinue” the biometric identification services (BIS) project in “light of project delays”.

“The contract with NEC Australia to deliver the BIS project has today been terminated,” ACIC CEO Michael Phelan said.

“The project was suspended by mutual agreement on June 4 while commercial negotiations were ongoing.”

ACIC is understood to have asked NEC staff working on the project to leave last week.

The commission repeatedly declined to comment on the status of the project when asked by iTnews last week.

The BIS project was intended to replace the existing national automated fingerprint identification system (NAFIS), which contains in excess of eight million records.

The system is used by police across Australia and the Department of Home Affairs to establish an individual’s identity from their fingerprint and palm impressions or prints.

ACIC signed a $52 million contract with NEC in April 2016 to develop the new system by June 2018.

But problems with the projects, first made known in a PwC report obtained by the Canberra Times in January, have seen costs spiral.

The report found project costs had grown from the $52 million budget approved by the Department of Finance to $94.6 million by November last year.

It also said the system was unlikely be delivered in time for the June 2018 deadline after “a systemic pattern of delay”, which could force the agency to extend NAFIS by another 12 months.

NAFIS was originally developed by Morpho (now IDEMIA).

An ACIC deal with Morpho for systems development grew by $20.3 million in the wake of ACIC's decision to walk NEC staff, though the agency declined to comment on the nature of the contract.

The Australian National Audit Office is now conducting an audit into the project at the request of the ACIC.

“The ACIC is committed to delivering projects that enhance capability for our law enforcement partners,” Phelan said.

“As part of this approach we regularly review the scope, expected benefits and ongoing feasibility of our projects.”

NEC said it was “extremely disappointed” by ACIC’s decision given the “BIS solution was ready to be handed over … for systems acceptance testing when the project was placed on hold”.

“NEC has worked closely with the ACIC to deliver the BIS project and have clearly demonstrated … that we already have a high quality solution that will meet their needs,” it said in a statement.

“The BIS solution was built with data migrated from the legacy system on 14 February 2018.”

The company also highlighted that the project was terminated “under the ‘termination for convenience’ clause, and not because NEC had been in breach of its obligations”.

The BIS project is the second deal that NEC has lost control over in recent months.

Just last month, the Department of Education was forced to cease work on the national apprenticeship management system over ongoing delays with its launch date.

While this was ultimately the result of poor project management on the department’s part, there were also a number of critical defects with the NEC system.

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