Five firms chosen to supply ID cards

Five companies have been signed by the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) to supply the National Identity Scheme - the massive and controversial project that will see UK citizens issued with identity cards and biometrics added to passports.

CSC, EDS, Fujitsu, IBM and Thales have all won places on the framework contract. They were the only firms still left vying for a spot after BAE and Steria pulled out.

IPS executive director Bill Crothers told IT PRO that all five firms were kept because they were all qualified to bid, and there wasn't enough difference between their scores.

The firms still battle it out for the contracts on offer, but having such a framework in place will help speed up the procurement process, the IPS explained.

The project is divided into five separate procurements. The first, expected to be awarded this summer, is for just 10 million over three years, and will deliver an interim set of identity cards for critical workers by 2009, Crothers said.

The government previously announced that the cards would be rolled out in stages, beginning with security-critical people such as airport workers.

The next three stages will cost in the region of 500 million each over ten years and contractors will be chosen by 2009, Crothers said. The first of these is for an application and enrolment system for passports and ID cards, which replaces an existing contract with Siemens, which expires next year.

The second is for the biometric database, which will hold fingerprint detail. It replaces a current fingerprint database from Sagem, which is currently being used for foreigners applying for visas.

The next is for the production of the actual cards. That contract will be announced in late 2009, Crothers said.

The last aspect is "a little bit different," Crothers said. The framework has also been offered to other departments looking to supply technology related to identity. So, the UK Border Agency is using the framework to get a new system for handling caseworkers.

While the contracts will go to the five big firms, subcontracting is obviously a key aspect. Crothers said each winning firm has had to list out their subcontractors in a set of intensive meetings over nine months - as many as 150 were held with each firm.

"We've given them thousands of pages of documents and they've met with the executive directors of IPS," Crothers said. "They are very informed and understand what we are doing and the political landscape."

And with such a controversial project, understanding politics is key. The ID card scheme was started by the Labour government, and the Conservatives have said they would end the project if elected - something that seems increasingly likely to some pundits.

Also at issue is the number of problems which seem to haunt large scale public sector IT programmes. Crothers said the IPS is looking to avoid becoming the latest on the list of failures by focusing on cooperation with the suppliers - and enforcing that cooperation with sanctions. "We've got a lot of commercial devices to motivate, incentivise and penalise if it doesn't happen," he explained.

"[Cooperation] can be rather woolly and loose, so we've put in place hard, tangible mechanisms," Crothers explained.

And nor is it just about service level agreements or timelines, he stressed. Any firm that does not keep with the project's code of practice will be given a warning. If they have not improved after six months, they will be out of the contract at "little or not cost" to the IPS, which would be no small thing for a 500 million contract, Crothers stressed.

For more details on the ID card programme, check out our timeline.