Railtrack, the railway infrastructure firm, is to outsource its desktop operation to Unisys in the first stage of a major new IT strategy.
The contract is due to be signed this week for Unisys to roll out 5,000 desktops by the end of November and migrate the company from Windows 3.1 to NT.
The deployment follows a savage Y2K freeze, which saw 44 IT projects, including the desktop roll-out, pulled to free staff and resources to deal with the millennium bug.
The project, costing about £10m, will see Railtrack deploy Microsoft's Office suite and Documentum document management software onto the desktop.
Railtrack will deploy, but not enable Internet and e-mail until it has upgraded its firewall. It must configure and run an intranet and agree Internet access policies before it implements these applications.
Railtrack information systems director Thiaga Kathirasoo told Computer Weekly that the new IT strategy was deliberately conservative.
"In dealing with Year 2000 we reduced 1,100-plus systems, many from British Rail days, to 270. We got the system under control and are trying to build a stable platform to go forward."
Kathirasoo rejected moving to Windows 2000, saying it was not stable enough or proven.
Craig Wentworth, consultant at analyst firm Ovum, said, "Railtrack is years behind and even moving from Windows 3.1 to NT is a lot of change to manage. I hope that it has established sensible milestones to check its progress."
He said rolling out 5,000 desktops by the end of the year was a significant task.
Martin Brampton, an analyst with Bloor Research, was more critical. "This is not a conservative strategy, it is backward looking. Two or three years ago it might have made sense.
"Now, if you are starting from Windows 3.1 I'd be looking at using a Microsoft Terminal Server, with or without Citrix, or looking at a whole ASP solution, not a desktop roll-out."
Kathirasoo is unrepentant about his strategy. "We have gone from total anarchy to a more structured position. Windows NT may no longer be Bill Gates' approved path, but we know it is stable and it can support the volumes we generate."