A mission-critical IT project to replace hard copy intelligence on threats to UK security with a secure network that links government offices in the UK and overseas is due for completion in 2009 - five years later than originally planned.
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The web-based "Scope" system is designed to link the main producers and consumers of government intelligence: central departments, agencies and the intelligence services.
It was scheduled to be in place by 2004. But Computer Weekly has learned that the project, which is managed by the Cabinet Office and is funded in part by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, is due to be phased in over the next two years.
Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee has said that the Scope project would mark the beginning of the end of hard copy intelligence distribution.
Phase one of the programme began late last year, and a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said that users were "now successfully exploiting this capability". But the roll out of applications for the critical phase two of the programme, which were due to connect counter-terrorism specialists in 10 agencies and departments, including the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre at MI5's headquarters, are not due to start until next year.
Security difficulties aside, the project's leaders have problems similar to those on other major government IT projects, such as the NHS's £12.4bn National Programme for IT and the Home Office's C-Nomis project to provide information on offenders.
They have learned that it is important to win the support of the system's end-users early on, that those implementing it must own the programme completely, and that accountability for delivery must be clear. They have also found that there must be enough staff and money for both project management and business change.
In its 2005-06 annual report, the Intelligence and Security Committee expressed concern that there was a "lack of preparedness of partners to reap the benefits of the new system". It urged the agencies involved in the scheme to consider carefully the "cultural changes surrounding the programme's implementation".
Officials running the project have told MPs that delays have resulted in a "much fuller and more detailed understanding of what was required to deliver benefits to the programme partners and identified the need for further funding".
The government said the original plans for Scope were less ambitious than current ones. "In the government's view, it is important to devote the necessary time to getting it right," it said.