Here's a heartwarming story of an unloved orphan finding a new foster home. The orphan is the national police website. For the past three years, it has been walking a lonely beat at www.police.uk, providing a single point of contact to 53 UK police forces - 45 local forces and eight non-geographical agencies such as the British Transport Police.
E-government enthusiasts get excited about the police portal because it is one of only a very few in the world allowing citizens to report crimes online from anywhere in the country.
But everyone apart from the wonks ignores it. Chief constables have a cultural aversion to anything labelled "national police" and prefer to invest in their local websites. Politicians are jittery about the statistical effect of making it too easy to report crimes.
The portal is run by the Police IT Organisation (Pito), a classic example of a central IT agency that everyone on the front line loves to slag off, while simultaneously obstructing any moves to make it more effective.
The organisation recently awarded a new contract to replace and upgrade the portal. QinetiQ, which we hope learned valuable lessons about resilience from its work on the 1901 census website, takes over the brief from BT. The new site, due to go up in April, will be more friendly to disabled users, allow citizens to pinpoint the location of crimes on a digital map and - importantly - automatically prioritise information received from the public.
The new contract should secure the portal's future while Pito is absorbed into the new National Policing Improvement Agency. It is just one example of a flurry of recent activity aimed at clearing up the gruesome mess that is criminal justice IT.
In another deal announced recently, Fujitsu Services and Steria won contracts to develop and operate a digital hub to the criminal justice system. The Criminal Justice Exchange is supposed to route information securely between different agencies such as prosecutors, courts and prison services. The aim is to save money and reduce the toll of trials that "crack" because the right combination of accused, witnesses, paperwork and jury fails to show up.
Meanwhile, the Courts Agency is replacing its own primordial soup of courtroom IT with a new suite of systems in a £1bn procurement called Disc (development, innovation and support contracts).
Eight IT firms have been shortlisted for two sets of contracts. One of the systems being replaced is the Libra magistrates court system, memorably labelled by the House of Commons public accounts committee as the worst PFI contract to come to its attention.
Disc is the first big procurement to happen entirely on the watch of Ian Watmore, the government's chief information officer. It incorporates all the latest belt-and-braces safeguards against government IT programmes. Notably, it was subject to a "concept viability" consultation with the industry, after which it was split into two components, infrastructure and applications. One bidder who didn't make the shortlist last week commended the Courts Agency for doing things right.
The downside, of course, is that if Disc does run late or fail to work, government IT really is in trouble. Elsewhere, there are even some signs of movement over the failings of police IT exposed by the inquiry into the Soham murders. A new "national nominal index" will next year allow police forces to gather intelligence attached to any individual's name.
Even if all this works, much more remains to be done. There is a notable gulf between IT systems supporting criminal justice and those in operational policing. In one view, this gap reflects a healthy separation of powers. Judging by his recent conference speech, the prime minister has other ideas. The National Police Portal has the potential to be used for much more than reporting vandalised bus shelters.
UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.