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Foreign Office IT project pushes staff to 'wits' end'

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office project to roll out an enterprise resource planning system to 13,000 staff in the UK and more than 250 locations overseas has been slammed by a committee of MPs.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said embassies and consulates were suffering operational problems as a result of delays to the Prism IT consolidation project, which aims to replace 30 different IT systems with an Oracle system.

The committee, which forced the publication of parts of a critical internal report on the project, said Prism was "substantially behind time" and causing "great dissatisfaction" at embassies and consulates around the world.

Its report cited damning testimonials from embassy officials. One said, "In the Foreign Office's long history of ineptly implemented IT initiatives, Prism is the most badly designed and ill considered of the lot."

The report said, "Anyone who has visited a post where Prism has been rolled out knows that many staff are at their wits' end about it."

Senior diplomat Norman Ling told the FCO's board that the department lacked the project management skills needed to run Prism, had exaggerated its potential benefits and had erroneously rated the programme as medium-risk, not high-risk.

Ling said, "Prism was identified as high-risk in early consultancy studies because of its size and the need for a radical shift in FCO culture and working practices if the system was to achieve all that was expected of it.

"The decision to rate Prism only medium-risk meant the Office of Government Commerce's Gateway review process was not as robust as it might have been.

"The FCO greatly underestimated the requirement for business change when introducing Prism. It continues to do so."

Ling also said that, until last year, the FCO board had not been as actively engaged on Prism as it should have been. "Given that the programme is business critical, the board should have appointed one of its own as senior responsible owner," he said.

The committee said it was concerned that the Foreign Office had failed to inform parliament of the delays in implementing Prism and called for regular updates to MPs on the project.

Leader: A quest for openness


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