Home Office signs £17m deal with IBM to support core Border Force platform

Contract covers ongoing maintenance as well as upgrades

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The Home Office has signed a £17m deal with tech giant IBM for the delivery of ongoing support and functionality upgrades for the core IT system underpinning the work of the Border Force.

The Central Operations Platform was put in place several years ago and, according to recently published commercial documents, is “an open, web-based platform running on Home Office managed infrastructure”.

Its purpose is to enable “APIs, forms, workflows and reports to be rapidly developed for the support range of Border Force services, capabilities and processes”; the Home Office indicated that the system is used by 10,000 staff and supports 240,000 transactions each month. 

“COP was conceived in 2017 to tackle unsupported and decentralised ‘grey IT’ that had grown in usage at UK borders,” the contract said. 

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Grey IT is a term applied to technology that is put into use without sufficient prior governance or oversight from IT or digital professionals; often, the kit may not fully adhere to organisational standards or policies. 

Since the implementation of COP, 15 Border Force workflows have moved into or established on the new platform “along with a number of supporting services”. A key principle is the “standardisation of data terms across COP workflows”. 

In the 2021 financial year, “work continued to migrate legacy ‘grey IT’ workflows onto COP”, the contract said. Work also began to integrate to platform with Cerberus – a major new analytics system that aims to bring together a range of data sets to allow border officials and the security services to conduct vetting and risk-assessment procedures and investigate crimes such as human trafficking. 

The project to deliver Cerberus is due to reach completion in the 2023/24 year, but work on integrating the system with COP has centred on supporting the delivery of “notifications to frontline Border Force officers and the passing of outcomes back to Cerberus to complete the intelligence feedback loop”.

The migration and integration of new services will be supported by IBM, with which the Home Office entered into a four-year contract on 20 December. The engagement is intended to provide the department with a “delivery partner for technical architecture, development [and] engineering, delivery and test capabilities”.

The IT vendor will be asked to “deliver new functionality and capabilities [for COP] in 2022 and onwards, some of which have been identified, some of which are to be confirmed”.

Alongside which, the deal requires IBM to ensure the border IT platform “remains resilient, performant, and scalable with minimal downtime” while delivering “continuous improvement to existing capabilities, as and when identified”.

An estimated £4.24m will be spent during each year of the deal. The contract will run for a minimum term of two years, plus two expected one-year extensions.


Sam Trendall

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