The London Ambulance Service Computer-Aided Despatch System

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European Journal of Information Systems (2005) 14, 244–257 & 2005 Operational Research Society Ltd. All rights reserved 0960-085X/05 $30.00

The turnaround of the London Ambulance Service Computer-Aided Despatch system (LASCAD) Guy Fitzgerald1 and Nancy L. Russo2
Department of Information Systems and Computing, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, U.K.; 2Department of Operations Management & Information Systems, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, U.S.A. Correspondence: Guy Fitzgerald, Department of Information Systems and Computing, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH, U.K. Tel: þ 44 1895 266018; Fax: þ 44 1895 251686; E-mail: 1

Abstract The implementation of the Computer-Aided Despatch system at the London Ambulance Service has been one of the most notorious cases of failure within the information systems (IS) literature. What is less well known is that there followed, some time later, a much more successful implementation, described as a turnaround. This paper, based on a case study approach, describes the context and detail of that implementation. A framework from the literature, used in an analysis of the initial failure, is used to analyse and compare the similarities and differences in the development of the two systems. The framework provides four interacting elements and relationships for analysis. These elements are Supporters, Project Organisation, Information System, and the Environment in which they operate. The turnaround system was found to address directly almost all the issues identified as problematic in the failure. These included the approach taken by management to understand the needs of users, including issues unrelated to the system itself, their involvement in the development process, an improvement in the availability of resources (brought about in some part because of the previous failure), the ability to follow a relaxed timeline driven by users’ acceptance levels, the preparation of infrastructure projects to develop confidence, participation and prototyping, thorough testing, phased and simple implementation, and trust building. Certain environmental factors could not be so directly addressed but nevertheless were overcome by attention to detail and internal needs. Conclusions indicate that the factors addressed are not new and are to be found in the success literature. What is unusual is that they were implemented in this case in such unlikely circumstances. European Journal of Information Systems (2005) 14, 244–257. doi:10.1057/palgrave.ejis.3000541 Keywords: London Ambulance Service; Computer-Aided Despatch; information system; implementation; systems; success factors; failure; case study

The London Ambulance Service (LAS) Computer-Aided Despatch (CAD) system (LASCAD) has become widely known as a prime example of an information systems (IS) failure (see, e.g., Beynon-Davies, 1995; Finkelstein & Dowell, 1996; Collins, 1997). The LASCAD ‘crash’ happened in 1992 hitting the newspaper headlines with suggestions that 20–30 people had died as a result, leading to the resignation of the Chief Executive (CE) (The Guardian, 1992; The Independent, 1992). Questions were asked in the Parliament and a Public Inquiry instigated. This was followed by intense media interest and further government enquiries. Subsequently, however,

Received: 4 May 2004 Revised: 25 October 2004 2nd Revision: 25 November 2004 Accepted: 19 July 2005

Turnaround of the LASCAD

Guy Fitzgerald and Nancy L. Russo


the LAS disaster and its aftermath faded from prominence with little media coverage and few front-page stories. In 1996, a new LAS CAD system was implemented, with relatively little fanfare, which was very successful, enabling LAS to improve its performance substantially and to win the BCS (British Computer Society) award for Excellence in IS Management in 1997. Given the magnitude of the failure of the...
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