Project Athena – The Good, The Bad Or The Ugly?

But what is Project Athena I hear you ask.  I must confess that it had quietly passed me by till very recently, but now I’ve found out about it I’m not convinced that it’s a good thing, but I am open to be educated and converted if you, the Practitioners, convince me otherwise.

“Project Athena is a Web Based Single Solution Product that can be described as taking a case from “Report to Court”, comprising of four main modules

  • Crime Management,
  • Intelligence,
  • Custody and
  • Case Preparation.

As this is an integrated system they are delivered simultaneously.”

It is the brainchild of a company called Northgate, who again, I had not previously heard of, but maybe I should have done.  They have large, similar, contracts in place with Central and Local Government, Justice,  NHS, Housing and Transport sectors.  Very much “Project Outsourcing” so beloved of the Conservatives and Police “Reform”.  How could I possibly have missed it.

Northgate’s own website describes Project Athena thus

The Athena programme brings forces together to connect information, align processes and share costs.

Led by the Athena Management Organisation (AMO) and now covering nine forces, the programme is the largest investment in police technology in a decade.

Through a shared investment in the CONNECT platform and infrastructure, Athena helps forces to shift resources from the back office to the front line.

Officers can search once, input once, and re-use data many times – not just within one force, but across all forces signed up to Athena.

The software seamlessly merges intelligence, investigation management, case preparation and custody data along with property, digital data and a host of other supporting services.

By stripping out time-consuming manual processes and connecting easily with police, court service and Crown Prosecution Service systems, it means forces can work faster and achieve more.

Originally Athena began with the “Magnificent Seven” Forces, Essex, Bedfordshire,  Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk .   It was stated that these seven forces will be paying a total of £32million during the lifetime of the agreement (10 years) but the costs to each force will drop as and when more forces come on board.

Two more Forces have subsequently come on board, West Mercia and Warwickshire.

What Can Project Athena Help With?

 

What Are The Benefits Of Project Athena?

 

In the middle of this year there was passed a Deed of Variation, the exact details of which are “Commercially Confidential” but I would assume that this involves a change in cost to the 9 Forces.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that Project Athena will cost the 9 Forces at least £32 Million over the 10 year life of the Project, but does it work? Does it save the 9 Forces any money in the long term?  How much is each Force going to pay?  Well the latest info I have is that the £32 Million, or whatever it is now, will be divvied out like this, with each member Force paying the percentage shown

This is where you come in dear reader.

I am asking for your help, your experiences, your anecdotes, but don’t worry I don’t need your names etc.

I have heard anecdotes relating to my local Force that Project Athena is actually bogging them down and costing them a fortune. I have even heard tales that they are working 12 hour shifts to cover abstractions for Athena Training. I have submitted an FOI request to the PCC asking for details of the Deed of Variation but I’m not holding my breath, more crossing my fingers.  I have also submitted 2 FOIs to West Mercia Police asking for a) the total cost to the Force of Project Athena and b) how much overtime has been incurred this Financial Year in respect of Project Athena.

How can you help?

I would very much like to hear all or any of your experiences with Project Athena, Good, Bad or Ugly.  I am quite happy for them to be anonymous, as I would quite like to update this post with some real-life stories.  If you don’t want to give a name or use a nom-de-plume that’s fine by me.

What do you do next?

Either add a comment with your story at the bottom of this post or you can email me in confidence me at retiredandangry AT yahoo DOT com, replacing AT with @ and DOT with . obviously, or message me on RetiredAndAngry’s Facebook page.  Obviously, if you have any concerns, contact me first, any way you choose and I’ll listen to your concerns and see where we might be able to compromise to protect your identity.

22 Comments

  1. Safe to say I’d heard bad things about Athena before West Mercia decided they would implement this excellent **its not excellent, it’s awful** bit of kit. I had a two day training course where I was told that it would probably change a bit before it “went live”. 5 months later it went live and on that date any faith I had left in the Command Team died. I have yet to meet anyone from response, SNT, CID, specialist roles that has anything good to say about it. It has crashed in people midway through submitting crime reports, loosing hours of data which has to be resubmitted. My first, very basic submitted report (the most simple of emotional domestics) took two and a half hours to submit!! A week earlier it took 6 minutes! The system crashed twice, two phones calls to the “help desk” eventually resulted in a successful submisssion… only Athena didn’t share the details with the PVP unit, resulting in me having to send emails telling them of any risks etc. More time spent doing something that the old system used to do automatically.
    I have seen officers just switching off the computers and sitting with their heads in their hands. Even the first line in help, “floorwalkers” (who are not experts with additional training, they have had the same training as the rest of us but had been ‘identified’ as being better informed about Athena) are scratching their heads.
    I have experienced CPS asking for email requests for advice as they can’t use Athena and have sent email advice using the old system… which incidentally worked perfectly and still does even though we’re not meant to be using it. The only people who I’ve heard say how fantastic Athena is and how successful it is the bosses at HQ!!

    • Thank you for that. I’m sure many others will be interested to hear your experiences. Much obliged

      • Received from an Anonymous Reader…..

        have a straight forward Postal Req job relating to a guy that was arrrested in June. CPS authorised charges in early Sept – the whole file was ready to submit then .. then we were told all files had to wait and be submitted via Athena when it went live a couple of weeks later so i had to rebuild the whole thing on that system, rescanning in all the paper documents because of course Athena cant use the files I’d already scanned in for the previous digital file method – they were all saved as pdf files for gods sake !!! … took me two sodding days to rebuild whole file (Athena crashed oon the half hour almost every half hour) .. then it got rejected because the chap was arrested on old NSPIS custody system so Athena couldn’t produce PR because the case was locked as still live on NSPIS … several weeks of techy stuff going back and forth and I still don’t have a solution. One of the charges is summary only and goes out of date first week of December !!

      • A reader emailed……..

        Morning!

        I read your piece on project Athena which also mentioned my home force, Hertfordshire.

        We don’t actually have it yet because of all the bugs egg that have been ongoing throughout fits inception.

        We were trained 2 years ago in a 3 day session involving forcing other teams to work 12 hour shifts to cover our time off. This will happen again in the new year when we have to be trained again due to how long ago the training was with no usage time.

        Training was a farce as it was delivered by generic trainers who had a read a brief manual but also had no idea what was going on. This meant our questions about the process went in answered.

        Herts, Beds and Cambs are in a tri force agreement to try and save money on resources such as training erg. Also means Herts pays over the odds for a lot of stuff because the other 2 are broke.

        When visiting other forces with it they all hate it.

        Hope this insight helps 😁.

      • A reader emailed……..

        From the rumours I’ve heard, we’ve saved a lot of money in being paid fines from Northgate for failing to meet deadlines for delivery which may be why were sticking with it as it’s now a money thing.

    • It also occurs to me that the West Mercia/Warwickshire alliance seems to be picking up about 20% of the total cost. I don’t see how that is fair.

      • Received from an anonymous reader…..

        Athena doesn’t interlink with notification systems for social services, DV units or child services etc so whereas the old CRIMES system West Mercia used for years would send automatic messages to relevant departments to make them aware of incidents in their remit, Athena won’t. It falls to the individual officer (who by the way has to input the whole crime report themselves rather than calling a crime desk full of knowledgeable data inputters) and then manually send messages or emails to the other departments .. of course officers will not always know what needs to go to whom .. especially at 3am in the morning because previously it was done automatically … You can see the opportunity for major disaster when something gets forgotten

  2. Suffolk have had Athena for a while now. In the first few weeks it was plagued with issues. People physically cried after losing lots of work repeatedly. I have to say though, a year and a half on, I am so pleased we have switched to Athena. I cannot imagine going back to the old command-line system we had in place. Yes it will take some getting used-to. Yes there will be issues and it will take time for people to adapt. This is to be expected from any large scale system roll-out. Just give it a chance! Honestly it’s not that bad!

  3. Custody practically ground to a halt, it took so long.
    Weekly ‘Gold’ meetings because of all the problems.
    Officers just bursting into tears of frustration.
    Everything taking much much longer than the old way.
    System constanlty crashing.
    Training done on an obsolete system “The real system wont look anything like this” from the trainers.
    Training on how to obtain a warrant, not completing a crime file.
    Only one user can use a particular file at any time, causing people to start ringing round to see who has ‘locked’ the file.
    CPS couldnt receive crime files. Officers had to print them off and fax them through.
    Chief Officers wouldnt listen to Officers when they said it was rubbish.
    ‘Superusers’ who had no extra training were expected to be able to help sort out issues. Several of them quit as superusers.
    Overtime went through the roof as Officers had to complete reports before they went off. When the system crashed, all their work was lost and they had to start the sloow process all over again.
    Police stations sounded like there was an outbreak of Tourettes, ans Officers sat and shouted at computers.
    I could go on

  4. In short, it’s not as good as the system it replaced. I would have thought that’s a prerequisite for any new system, especially one the expensive.
    It’s clunky, unfriendly and turns a quick job into hours of data inputting. It’s next to impossible to look at your ‘workload’ and know what you’ve actually got to deal with.
    The self help guides that I can only assume Northgate put together are useless. One of the help guides simply told me to ‘Build the case’ as if that would solve my problem of not knowing how to build the case.
    Horrible, horrible system. It will undoubtedly cause sickness to rise causing demand to increase.

    • You’re absolutely right, if the replacement is not an improvement it’s a total waste of time and money “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”

  5. Anthea not Athena

    *Took 2 and half hours to complete a simple Drunk and disorderly file the other day.
    * It took me 1 hour to complete a simple crime report the other night , as the system crashed on me 3 times as I selected the wrong option on a drop down menu. This option apparently should have been removed and it hasn’t as it corrupts the system.
    * Its he found that its best if you just fill in the yellow mandatory boxes on the system as it’s been found if you fill in the others the system it gets corrupted by selecting something you shouldn’t and crashes.
    * spent 6 hours the other night completing a pre charge file and tried sending it off to the CPS only for it to tell me there was an error but couldn’t say where. Apparently taking N/A out of a particular box by chance correct the error. There was no indication of what the error was it was just a guessing game.
    * West Mercia has issues with no referrals being flagged for DV , Child Protection untie ect as the crime does not auto flag. You now have to fill in a number of boxes to selected the relevant department and then also have to email that department to make sure they get the crime flagged to them. (Duplication of Work dont you just love it)
    * it’s been nicknamed Anthea
    * it’s been nicknamed Urethra as it’s a pile of piss.
    * only one person can work on one crime or case at a given time. Prior to this any amount of officers could help create a charge file such as a remand , sadly not any more.

  6. From what I understand it is FORCE IT server and memory issues which is hampering Athena.

    It’s not amazing but it’s better than what most forces ran on in the past.

    • I thank you

    • If the problems are caused by Force IT and server issues then surely Northgate should have held Athena back till a compatible and suitable server had been sourced and installed

    • No. I sat on the Gold Meetings, and the Forces IT equipment was never questioned. Athena is being run on a platform that is about 12 years old. For IT programmes, that is ancient.

  7. I have been told by many people within West Mercia including people on the Athena Focus group that the senior officer that signed West Mercia up to Athena has now retired and is working for Northgate, the makers of Athena. Call me cyclical but it all seems a bit dodgy to me.

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