A project to deliver a unified computer system for Britain’s armed forces is running 18 months late and in danger of being seriously over budget unless the Ministry of Defence takes “concerted action”, says the public spending watchdog.
In a report on the Defence Information Infrastructure programme (DII), the National Audit Office on Friday will warn that the MoD has to roll out more than 6,000 computer terminals a month – double the highest average to date – if it is to meet its revised timetable.
The MoD awarded the contract to replace hundreds of different IT systems with a single infrastructure across 300,000 users and 150,000 terminals, to the Atlas consortium led by EDS, the American IT services group, three years ago. But initial problems with the roll-out of new computer terminals and the creation of the software have led to cost overruns of £182m ($361m) in addition to the current programme cost of £4.5bn.
The cost of meeting the full vision of a single, integrated system is estimated at more than £7bn, according to the spending watchdog.
The programme had already delivered “important benefits” but ran into “implementation difficulties” in 2005-06 and “key elements are running significantly late”, said the report. The MoD had contracted to have 62,800 new terminals in place at permanent defence sites by the end of July 2007. At the end of April 2008, only 29,000 had been delivered, said the report.
The delay has led to the postponement of benefits, notably savings from switching off legacy systems.
While there had been efforts to remedy the problems, without improvements, “significant risks remain to the timely delivery of the programme”, warns the report. One of the mistakes identified was the assumption that the roll-out would be straightforward. The MoD initially accepted Atlas’ proposition that “a generic roll-out methodology, with fixed timescales, would be suitable”.
This proved to be a mistake as no proper assessment of the physical state of the department’s sites had been made; many were in poor condition, with some buildings with no power supplies.
As a result, while the initial plan had been to deliver 78,051 terminals in 2006, only 1,761 – or 2 per cent of the targeted total – were rolled out over that year.
The report points out that the delay had a knock-on effect on the implementation of a separate information technology programme, also led by EDS. To re-align the two programmes, the MoD delayed implementation of this project, forcing it to pay EDS £12.7m.
Software problems have also dogged DII. So far just one of the key elements has been released.
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