Computer Weekly interviews heads of £5bn Defence Information Infrastructure project

In this blog entry the two leaders of the £5bn Defence Information Infrastructure contract [DII], who represent the Ministry of Defence and the Atlas consortium of suppliers, led by services company EDS, answer our questions about progress and challenges, and the lessons learned.

Their defence of the DII follows a joint investigation of the DII by Computer Weekly and Channel 4 News. Bob Quick, the MoD’s programme director for the scheme, and Howard Hughes, Chief Operating Officer of a consortium of suppliers, Atlas, did not deny there have been problems but said the scheme was on a sound footing.


Why was there a need to change the DII contract in December 2006? [The Atlas consortium was awarded a DII add-on contract, increment 2a, worth an extra £750m, in December 2006. The first increment was worth £2.3bn to Atlas. Under increment 1 about 70,000 systems should have been delivered by mid-2007. Today only about 16,000 terminals have been delivered.]

Bob Quick said:

“The contract wasn’t changed. We did add at the end of 2006 another increment. It’s an incremental contract to de-risk the delivery. At the end of 2006 increment 2a was added which is a further set of UADs [user access devices such as desktop systems and laptops]. The programme has had some challenges as we have rolled forward.

“As of today we [have] in the order of 16,000 UADs and about 56,000 account holders. The early part of the programme very much concentrated on the delivery to the users who had some of those older systems because we needed to get the infrastructure out there to support the HR applications, both civilian and military, and some of the other defence change applications coming through.

“So we certainly were not rolling out the volume of UADs that we anticipated at the time of contract award. But we have now done about 400 of the 600 sites in increment 1 so [we’re] about two thirds of the way through in terms of sites. The number of terminals we are now rolling out has ramped up over the last few months and we are regularly rolling out 3,000 and 4 ,000 a month which will assist in getting the programme back to the combined plan for [increments] 1a and 2.”

The benefits of awarding large contracts in increments

Bob Quick spoke about the advantages of awarding a large contract in increments, in which the supplier is awarded the next stage only if there has been important progress so thus far. The Identity and Passport Service plans a similar strategy for ID cards.

Was the contract 2a awarded after it was proving too ambitious to reach the numbers in increment one?

Bob Quick replied:

“No. We decided before the contract was awarded, during the tender phase, that to let a contract for the totality of DII was probably not a sensible thing to do for two reasons: we were going to be implementing over a number of years and therefore it was not wise to try and anticipate what would happen in three years.

“Hence, when we awarded the contract, we went for an incremental approach. Secondly defence is going through considerable change all the time particularly with our operational scenarios at the moment.”

Awarding the contract in increments has paid dividends, said Quick. It has helped the MoD to manage changes such as “Northern Ireland normalization”, and provide IT support to those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

He added:

“Our implementation plan needs to be built around those constant changes that happen within the department. The incremental approach was a re-risking approach and I believe it has been very successful.”

Will DII applications do much more than they do now – but on a standardized network?

Bob Quick said:

“It does so on standardized network and with a breadth of reach. When we first started this programme back in the early part of this decade, we had in the order of 300 different systems … that creates a complexity and a difficulty that DII will overcome both in terms of providing effective capability and reducing the cost that we are paying for delivery of infrastructure.”

Will people be happy with a one-size-fits-all?

We asked whether DII is too ambitious. We pointed out that doctors working for the NHS who had old systems welcomed having them upgraded under the National Programme for IT [NPfIT] but those with newer technology did not want it replaced by less advanced “one-size-fits-all” systems. In defence there are some with old “DOS” technology and green screens but many with much newer systems.

Bob Quick said:

“We have not had a great deal of push back from those we have migrated on what you might call modern systems. Many of them can see the advantages of going to that common infrastructure. It is true that some of [the users] are not moving forward very far in terms of the technology that they see today but there are many people who have the older systems that we need to bring up to the same standard. I don’t think that’s an issue.”

Some staff question continuing the DII rollout when there are problems

Bob Quick said:

“We have had some challenges on the programme and we are dealing with those. We have had challenges at Abbey Wood [Near Bristol, Abbey Wood is the MoD’s largest site to have DII so far]. But [on] a programme of this scale and complexity [the problems are] something I would expect. Those have been managed. There has been a good working relationship between MoD and the consortium Atlas and we have worked our way through those problems and resolved them. There has never been any issue about stopping the programme. We have got to work through the issues as they arrive.”

Howard Hughes added:

“From an end-user perspective we have over 56,000 users live on the system and we’ve met …consistently our service level agreements and KPIs [key performance indicators] for the whole of this year. From a service perspective we are delivering what it says on the tin. But it is a large rollout. At the same time as we are rolling IT out there are large moves across defence – co-location of headquarters, combining of top-level budgets and commands. And while you are doing major change, and rolling out IT at the same time, you are bound to get the odd complaint; you are bound to get the odd rumble in the road. We have a very experienced IPT [integrated project team] and a very experienced team inside ATLAS and we are not seeing anything that we weren’t expecting.”

Hughes continued:

“The good thing about the relationship is, in the early days after contract award, we really did go over the top on building a joint team and a relationship that we knew we could sustain for the remainder of the contract and we’re pretty proud of that. That’s a model we would all do well to look at and try to replicate elsewhere on programmes of this size and type.

“The relationship really is world-class. Bob has mentioned we have had our moments. We have had some big issues to leap over. There has never been any intention of stepping away from commitments and there’s never been any intention of stepping away from staying very focused on supporting the likes of the Defence Change Programme – JPA [Joint Personnel Administration] in particular this year and last – and supporting operations. The relationship is really fantastic.”

What major problems have there been?

Bob Quick replied:

“We have faced various challenges. One of the challenges has been around applications, in the sense of moving the applications into a new paradigm, effectively into a new architecture. [This] requires the applications to be upgraded, and one of our challenges has been to get those applications upgraded and there have been issues there. There continue to be issues. That part of the programme needs close monitoring. We have migrated about 200 applications – about two thirds of increment one applications – onto the [DII] system … but there are still some that we are working at.”

Quick continued:

“Some of the issues about data transfer and interchange of data between systems has been a challenge in the environment. There is a multiplicity of systems. When you move users over you don’t move the whole group off one system; you move a small group of them, so they still need to maintain business continuity between [DII] and the remainder of their colleagues who are still on the previous system. Those are all the sorts of challenges that you have in a very large migration like this and some of them have been very major challenges.”

What are the lessons?

“On the applications side we would look at how we could, in advance of awarding the contract for the infrastructure, get work underway to get the applications upgraded. That’s certainly a lesson we have learned.

Is the DII IT security quite basic initially?

Bob Quick said:

“This is not a multi-level secure system. We have different layers of security so the security operates within a layered approach within the DII system. We are not delivering a multi-level secure system.”

Howard Hughes added that the plan for implementation has – initially – concentrated on migrating users who are mainly working at the “restricted” security level. This is the lowest level of MoD security, one step above “unclassified”.

Hughes said that the “restricted” level is “where the majority of the Defence Change Programme applications will reside” including the Joint Personnel Administration and the Defence Medical Information Capability Programme.

He added:

“We ware now attacking the high levels of security – secret both in the fixed environment and the deployed environment. They are the next major software releases to be pushed out into live.”

In what way is this not multi-level security?

Bob Quick said that multi-level security is having one terminal on the desk that gives access to information at every level, from say the internet to a very high security classification. This is not the approach the MoD has adopted on DII.

Quick said:

“That [multi-level security] has many challenges because of the nature of the technology. We need to protect our most sensitive information and that’s done by the layered approach.”

So if a user’s terminal needs to run applications at the “secret” level it will do so, but will not run at other levels of security classification?

Quick said:

“It [the terminal] would just run at secret and would not be, for example, connected to the internet.”

What about the disruption from the implementations so far?

Quick said some personnel who were due to relocate from Andover in Hampshire to Abbey Wood near Bristol were unable to do so for several weeks because they were waiting for their applications to be migrated to DII.

He said:

They [the users at Andover] were waiting for the applications to be upgraded. That particular business unit was very much involved in operations, so a business decision was taken to defer their move so as not to impact their support to the operational community whilst we resolved the application issue. [This] is a good example of the points I made earlier about the issues we have had with applications.”

Are you happy with the number of applications going live?

Bob Quick said:

Are we happy with the numbers? Absolutely. Applications are not a drag anchor on implementation.

Howard Hughes added:

“We have migrated into live about 200 of the 290 applications that were required for increment one. The back of that has broken. Over 200 are in a live environment. The number of applications has now increased because we have added the increment 2 applications we talked about earlier …”

But if everything had gone according to original schedule wouldn’t there have been 290 applications live by the middle of this year?

Bob Quick replied:

“If we’d stuck to the original schedule there would have been 290 but as the programme has changed we have constantly needed to change the application migration sequence because it’s a case of getting of getting them ready for FUL [First User Live].”

“What are the biggest challenges?

Bob Quick said:

“Data migration is one, and [also] the need to maintain business continuity as users move across from one systems to another.

“Getting the programme aligned with the changes going on across defence is another key issue and why we need effectively to keep managing that migration schedule dynamically as the changes occur.

I think the next big challenge is moving into the next big releases of software dealing with EDRMS [electronic documents and records management system] and high-grade messages.

“They are going to be challenges because they are not just about the IT systems and delivering the software – that is one challenge and an easy challenge – but they are also about changing the business processes and the business ways of working. That is a major issue because we need to coincide those two to make it [DII] a success.”

Howard Hughes added:

“A fourth [major challenge] is around the softer side of it with the user communication and expectation management. With a rollout of this size you will always get an element of desk level resistance, an element of “not invented here” and as we get bigger and keep rolling [out] we need to ensure we are communicating effectively.”

Is there a danger of people having both legacy systems and new technology? If you have some applications you really cannot migrate to DII will you end up with essentially two desktops?

Bob Quick said:

“There is a certainly a danger of that. I am very alive to it. It’s not only a danger of the user having two desktops. If we don’t get rid of the legacy systems we obviously need to keep the support going for both legacy and [DII] so it’s an issue we are very alive to. We have a number of processes in place across the department and with Atlas to make sure that that situation does not occur, although in one or two cases we have had temporarily to leave legacy there for the applications issue you talked about. There is a plan to back out of that quickly.”

Howard Hughes added that it was in the commercial interests of Atlas to move people off legacy applications.

He said:

“You mention FUL [First User Live]. Another milestone is LUL – Last User Live on the site. There is a process, a quite distinct gate you have to leap over to leave legacy behind. So if we want to retain legacy on the site, the sign-off and the authority to do that, is made very difficult to achieve.”

There have been 22 migration sequences – changes in strategy – so far. This is a large number. Where will it end?

Bob Quick said:

“It won’t end at 22… The migration sequence is constantly under review within my team. That means there are daily and weekly changes to it as defence changes.”

Howard Hughes added:

“We have actually only ever issued four baselines which the implementation teams have worked to and they were [migration sequence numbers] 7, 16, 21 and 22.”

If you keep changing the baselines don’t you lose track of costs?

Bob Quick said there has been no increase in the costs of the contract awarded to Atlas save an allowance for inflation.

He added that payment follows performance contract “so if Atlas don’t deliver what’s required they don’t get paid”.

He said:

“That is why the contract has remained within its approvals”.

He added that the portion of the DII spend allocated to Atlas for the remainder of the contract’s term – seven years – is expected to remain within budget.

Have you considering stopping work on the contract following complaints from some staff?

Bob Quick said there has never been any intention to stop the programme. He said:

“It has enormous momentum across 400 sites now and it needs to keep rolling and is rolling out.”

Would you do anything differently if you could start again?

Bob Quick said:

“We did a lot of work on learning lessons from other contracts. We took the NAO [National Audit Office] recommendations for successful IT programmes and the advice of the OGC [Office of Government Commerce]. We worked through what this programme is doing, and tried to learn the lessons from that.

“We also took lessons from other big systems within government and the commercial arena. I mentioned earlier what I would look to try and do with applications, before we went to contract award. But that would be subject to approval on funding I am sure. Generally though I believe this programme is on sound foundations and there is a not a great deal I would change. I would certainly go ahead again with the incremental approach. On a programme of this size and complexity an incremental approach gives us the opportunity to deal with the changes in organisation that an area such as defence has to deal with.”


The £5bn Defence Information Infrastructure – was original plan too ambitious?

ID cards new contracts to be awarded in increments – genuinely innovative?

EDS scoops £4bn MoD outsourcing contract

The £5bn Defence Information Infrastructure hit problems – Computer Weekly report

Defence Information Infrastructure