THE MAGAZINE

IT Project Provides Lessons

By Peter Piazza

A large IT project that ran into problems offers lessons for others who might want to embark on a similar journey. The project was called the Citizen and Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting (CLEAR) system developed by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and Oracle Corporation.

CLEAR was supposed to become an integrated criminal-justice information system that would allow police to better allocate resources and address crime. It was also intended to increase accountability and to help officials manage offender flow through the criminal justice system. Last, it was intended to enhance intelligence-gathering efforts from and participation with the community.

The project, begun in 2001, was, however, "a process fraught with unanticipated roadblocks," according to a recently released paper from The Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

Funding was one of these roadblocks. CPD needed to find multiple sources of funding, and insufficient funding was an ongoing problem.

Another challenge was making a decision about what hardware and software to buy. Decision makers faced not only myriad choices but also the fear that newer products might be superior. "The prospect of obsolescence can paralyze the development process," the report notes.

Broken promises from vendors--and one vendor that failed to pay its subcontractors, resulting in missing technology--meant that CPD needed to find alternative sources.

Other issues noted by the report: the absence of someone to view the "big picture," rather than the details; "scope creep" that threatened to delay the project and put it over budget; and the importance of setting deadlines that recognize that "competing forces may intervene to destroy any hope of meeting conservative deadlines."

@ The full report, Policing Smarter Through IT: Lessons in Enterprise Implementation, is available through the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services via SM Online.

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