One of the government’s biggest IT contracts – a £5bn deal for new IT at defence locations across the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan – has run into delays and major problems at the first large MoD site to install the technology.
The Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) project is the latest in a succession of problem IT-based schemes that include systems to support tax credits, the Criminal Records Bureau, the passport service, and payments to farmers.
A joint investigation by Computer Weekly and Channel 4 News into the DII has found that the Ministry of Defence and its main contractors, the Atlas consortium, led by services supplier EDS, have delivered only about a quarter of the systems due to have been implemented by the end of July 2007 under the original plan.
The overall projected cost of the DII, which was announced to the House of Commons as being a total of about £4bn over 10 years, is now put at more than £5bn, according to the government’s expenditure plans for 2007/8 which include the MoD internal costs on the programme. The MoD and Atlas said, that the consortium’s costs are within budget.
The Chief of Defence Materiel General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue said in a letter to staff in October 2007 that there have been “major problems” at the first major site to have DII installed, at Abbey Wood near Bristol. There is a huge commitment from everyone including Atlas to get the problems sorted out, he said.
Staff are dissatisfied with some of the systems installed so far; and they ask why the roll-out is continuing despite significant disruption.
One said the roll out of DII in the Infantry Guided Weapons integrated project team has been an unmitigated disaster. Another said that if there were a problem with equipment during operations, such as the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or a safety incident, there may not be a quick response.
Responding to the complaints, Tim Flesher, Chief of Corporate Services, said in an internal letter to staff there had been significant disruption at Abbey Wood and that the programme had at times almost stopped. “There is no doubt that progress has not been as smooth as we would have wished and there has been a significant degree of disruption, especially for those pioneering teams that moved in the first phase while procedures were still being sorted out.” Since he made these comments Flesher has said that problems are being tackled energetically and are being resolved as the rollout at Abbey Wood continues.
The MoD said there have been problems on the DII but numbers of new systems are now ramping up to between 3,000 and 4,000 terminals a month. More than 16,000 systems were operational by the end of October 2007.This is less than the 70,000 systems that were due to have been installed by mid 2007 under the original contract.
Tory MP Henry Bellingham said: “There has been a complete veil of secrecy over all this. Ministers refuse to talk about it – they don’t like me asking my parliamentary questions about it; they don’t like answering questions in the House; they brush it to one side... if someone doesn’t get a grip we could be facing a total disaster.”
The MoD said it has answered Parliamentary questions as fully as possible.
The Atlas consortium, led by one of the government’s biggest contractor EDS, says that it met contractual commitments and that problems are being resolved. Its spokesman said there is a good working relationship with the MoD and there has never been a question of stopping the programme.
The spokesman told Channel 4 News, in relation to the roll out of the programme to Abbey Wood: ““There are challenges around changing the way things are done. We dropped the ball; we should have left another dozen people around for a little longer to help people bed in those new systems. And the latest feedback we have from Abbey Wood is that that situation is stabilised and our client is content with the way we’re handling that.”
The MoD says it is confident that the DII will provide significant military capability to troops.
About the DII contract
The MoD awarded a Windows-based contract for the DII to Atlas in March 2005. The aim is to replace more than 300 separate systems with a single IT infrastructure for the army, navy and air force. The systems are due to be installed at hundreds of locations that include submarines, barracks, air force bases and at sites in some militarily sensitive parts of the world. They will support almost every defence activity from helping staff order equipment for troops, to delivering intelligence information from sensors.
Some of the planned DII technologies
· Computer Associates helpdesk and service catalogue
· Windows XP and Vista
· Proxima BSM business service reporting
· HP Radia software management
· MicroMuse Netcool system management
· Computer Associates Argis system management
· Quest Active Role Server for user setup
· NDL Metascybe Active Conductor for terminal emulation
· HP protect tools; Sanctuary, NAI McAfee for security
· Veritas Netbackup for back-up/clustering
- Verity enterprise search
- Exchange and Boldon James for medium and high grade messaging
- K2.net for workflow
- Microsoft Adam for enterprise directory
March 2005: The MoD awarded the Atlas consortium, led by EDS, a contract to supply a Defence Information Infrastructure [DII]. DII in total, including the Mod’s costs, is put at £4bn over 10 years. The Atlas part of DII is worth at this stage £2.3bn.
January 2006: work begins on DII and problems of installing systems under increment one at the rate originally envisaged – 70,000 user access devices by mid-2007 – soon become evident.
December 2006: The Ministry of Defence reaches an agreement with Atlas to spread the delivery of increment one over a further two years, to 2009, and to contract for extra systems under a new phase, increment 2a, which is worth an additional £750m.
The government’s senior economic adviser on the project is satisfied that a comparison of costs of other options points narrowly but decisively in favour of appointing Atlas for increment 2a. But he cannot give a full value for money endorsement because “we do not have sufficient evidence” on performance from increment one.
Mid-2007: About 6,000 user access devices under DII have been installed, less than a tenth of the 70,000 devices that were originally expected under increment one.
October 2007: General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue, Chief of Defence Materiel, says in an internal letter to staff that there have been “major problems” at Abbey Wood, near Bristol, which is the first major defence site to install systems under DII. H e says there is a huge commitment from everyone including Atlas to sort out the problems.
November 2007: Spokespeople for the MoD and Atlas say the numbers of user access terminals being delivered has “ramped up” to between 3,000 and 4,000 a month. A total of 16,000 systems have gone live. The MoD says that DII will provide a significant military capability to troops. It remains unclear, however, whether the full original plan for 150,000 terminals across about 2,000 MoD will go ahead. It emerges that the total costs for DII are estimated by the government at more than £5bn which includes MoD’s work on DII. The Atlas portion of the total costs remains within budget. The MoD says in relation to the problems at Abbey Wood that its staff and Atlas have “progressively resolved the problems and improved capability”.