MPs slam MoD handling of IT project

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has made damning criticisms of the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) handling of a 7-billion project to upgrade its computers.

A PAC report published today said the Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) project, established in 2005, had been "badly planned". The report called for "rapid improvement" if cost-saving benefits were to be fully achieved.

The contract to design, install and run the DII project was awarded to the ATLAS consortium. The programme aimed to provide 150,000 terminals, supporting 300,000 MoD users at more than 2,000 sites by 2015, with additional capability on deployed operations and Royal Navy ships.

But the PAC report said the project had been beset by delays, leaving users reliant on out-of-date systems and the MoD exposed to increased risk of IT systems failure.

PAC chairman Edward Leigh said in a statement that the project had been "badly planned in important respects".

The report said: "The main causes of delay were the programme's over-optimistic assumptions about the condition of the buildings into which DII would be fitted, and the consequent selection of an inappropriate and unresponsive methodology for installing terminals."

As a result, only 45,600 terminals were in place by the end of September 2008, when 62,800 terminals should have been installed by the end of July 2007. And, the cost of the project had risen by 182 million.

The report also criticised the ATLAS consortium's lead provider, EDS, for underestimating the complexity of the software it had to develop.

"For over two years, it was unable to deliver a system that could safely handle secret material," Leigh added.

He also said that the contractor's track record on government IT project delivery "has not been exemplary," just as the MoD had been unable to adequately protect sensitive data, following a number of recent high-profile data loss incidents.

The report did say the department had been able to protect the project's benefits, which amount to an estimated 1.5 billion, and that roll-out performance had improved recently, with new software tested and 3,400 terminals rolled out on average each month.

But it added: "Rapid improvement to 4,300 terminals a month will be needed if the department's latest deadlines are to be met."

The PAC report largely echoed the findings of an equally damning National Audit Office report published last July.

Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.