ID cards on track for 2009 as procurement begins

Procurement process finally gets underway but questions remain over the technical “nuts and bolts” of the project

By James Murray

The government has confirmed that it remains on track to deliver the first ID cards by 2009 after it finally began the procurement process for the £5.5bn project.

After months of delays, which had led to speculation that the controversial project would be further downgraded following the decision last year to ditch some of the biometric data originally planned for the card, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has published a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union inviting expressions of interest from potential suppliers.

The move paves the way for a Framework Agreement, which will see the IPS settle on a list of pre-qualified suppliers and contract terms for the ID card project and related Home Office initiatives to enhance passport security.

The IPS said it was seeking suppliers with “the ability to deliver large, complex, secure systems; to manage these systems to deliver reliable performance day after day; [and] to respond flexibly as requirements and priorities evolve” .

IPS chief executive James Hall said that the procurement strategy had been developed following lengthy consultation with potential suppliers. “Feedback from the supplier community has shaped our approach to procurement and will ensure we have a competitive process that enables innovative solutions and value for money,” he said. “I am confident that the supplier community will step up to the mark in helping us construct this key national asset.”

A spokesman for IT trade body Intellect welcomed the move, claiming the start of the procurement process should bring to an end damaging speculation about contract size and terms and deliver “greater clarity to the market”.

“We expect there will be significant interest from companies of all sizes in this procurement and we hope that all involved in the scheme continue to engage with the industry to ensure the successful delivery of this programme,” the spokesman added.

However, any businesses hoping that the start of the procurement process would herald the release of more information on how they could exploit the ID card project are likely to be disappointed, according to Simon Davies, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ Department of Information Systems and a staunch critic of the government’s ID card programme.

“The procurement document leaves a great deal of scope for alteration and doesn’t tell us a great deal about the nuts and bolts of the project,” Davies observed. “It could be argued that this is right and proper as it should be more of a feasibility assessment at this stage, but the impression is that the people running the project still don’t exactly know what the real world applications will be.”

Davies added that until more details are disclosed on the technology’s functionality and how businesses and public sector agencies can interface with the register, IT chiefs will find it impossible to ascertain how their organisations can make use of the ID cards.