London Ambulance Service Software Failure Essay

1761 words - 8 pages

London Ambulance Service Software Failure
The London Ambulance Service (LAS) responds between 2000 and 2500 calls per day with a fleet of 750 vehicles, in less than three minutes. Their system was originally manually operated where details of an incident call taken by a control assistant is used to ascertain the location of an incident scene through the use of a map book. This information is then passed to a dispatch team who direct the appropriate ambulance to the incident scene through a radio call.
Due to the short comings of this manual system, the LAS thought to computerize its dispatch system in 1987. The first attempt was started in the 1980’s, abandoned in 1990 and failed after ...view middle of the document...

By Tuesday afternoon the situation escalated to the point that the system had to be shut down and dispatchers went back to using a combination of computerized call taking methods and locating ambulances manually. This solution, with the additional call taking staff added to each shift, seemed to improve call waiting time. This method of dealing with emergency calls carried on for 7 days until the 4th November 1992 when the system slowed and locked up all together. Rebooting the system failed to correct the problem, the backup system failed to cut in leaving the control room staff no alternative but to revert back to the fully manual paper based system. The CAD system finally crashed on 4 November 1992, 9 days after the launch.

20 deaths are suspected to have been caused by the delays. People were waiting half an hour to be answered by emergency services, and ambulances arrived 11 hrs after the initial call.
Management Problems
The CAD System commenced when there was unhealthy working relationship and lack of trust between the staff and management of LAS. Majority of the staff felt that the working conditions were deteriorating and the management style was seen to be bureaucratic and uncaring. Appointment of a tough new Chief Executive of LAS led to a massive reorganization and reduction of about 20% in the number of managers. This in turn resulted to exodus of highly experienced staff and increased stress on the remaining managers.
LAS management underestimated the enormous task associated with changing from the manual operation of the LAS to a fully computerized system.

Furthermore, LAS board members were appointed without knowing their responsibilities, absence of effective control at the top and inability to manage lower down led to a series of flaws in the project and its eventual collapse.

Preconditions of the CAD contract
LAS top management set a nonnegotiable date of 8 January 1992 for full implementation by the LAS CAD system, meaning that the contractors had barely 6 months to fully accomplish their task, in which many LAS staff considered the time to be inadequate and inflexible.
Another string which the LAS top management attached to the contract was cost restriction, which was pegged at maximum of £1.5 million. This was just one fifth of the money spent on the failed first attempt of the LAS CAD project. The cheapest supplier was accepted and a small software house was awarded the contract without any prior experience with similar emergency service system.

System Specifications and Design
A project committee was tasked to develop the SRS (system requirements specification) for the Project. The ambulance crews being key players in the LAS Dispatch System had little involvement in the entire process. Moreover, LAS top management failed to follow the guidelines of the UK Government project management methodology; the PRINCE (Project in Controlled Environment) in the design and implementation of the project.

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