UK gov't accused of inadequate planning on IT project

A report by UK Parliament complains a consortium lead by EDS underestimated the complexity of the software they had to deliver for the multi-billion dollar defence project

A powerful group of MPs has accused the UK Ministry of Defence of failing to properly plan a £7.1 billion IT project, leading to cost overruns and severe delays.

The MoD's suppliers, the Atlas consortium led by EDS, were also accused of underestimating the complexity of the software they were asked to deliver on the Defence Information Infrastructure project, an initiative to replace hundreds of existing computer systems with a single new system.

Edward Leigh MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, which created the report, said the project was "badly planned in important respects" and remained over budget by about £182 million.

"No proper pilot for this highly complex programme was carried out, and entirely inadequate research led to a major miscalculation of the condition of the department's buildings in which the new system would be installed," he said.

Under the programme, which began in 2005 and aims to deliver £1.5 billion benefits, some 150,000 terminals will be implemented for 300,000 users. But the DII project has experienced long delays. Core software systems, such as word processing, were originally supposed to be available in June 2006, but two years later in June 2008, less than half of the requirement had been delivered.

"As a result of these problems, the Department's existing computer systems have had to be used for longer than intended, with the increased risk that one or more of them will fail," said the report.

By the end of September 2008, 45,600 terminals were running, instead of the 62,800 planned for over a year before.

The main delays came as a result of the programme's "over-optimistic" assumptions about the condition of its buildings, and the consequently incorrect methodology for installing the terminals, the report said.

But the progress of the rollout has picked up, with some new software tested and 3400 terminals rolled out each month. Nevertheless, the rollout rate would have to be increased to 4300 terminals a month to meet the new target of completion in 2015, the PAC said.

The core software such as word processing, email, internet access and security was planned to be available in June 2006, but less than half of the requirement had been delivered two years later in June 2008, according to the report which accused the suppliers of failing to meet MoD requirements.

EDS and its subcontractors underestimated the complexity of the software, Leigh said, meaning it took over two years to deliver a system "that could safely handle secret material". Leigh also said EDS had a "track record of delivering government IT projects [that] has not been exemplary".

The MoD should now create new detailed plans on cost and timing, Leigh said, insisting that the cost of this extra planning be deducted from the management fee paid to the Atlas suppliers. "And if the number of errors in the initial software design increases again," he said, "the Department must increase its scrutiny and not hesitate to turn down any claims from ATLAS for higher costs as a result."

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