You can't blame the boffins

The flawed development of Chinook's systems holds vital lessons for IT managers.

The flawed development of Chinook's systems holds vital lessons for IT managers.

IT managers can glean vital lessons in software development from problems with the Chinook's engine control system, according to one of the world's most senior safety-critical software specialists.

Malcolm Perks, former head of technology at Rolls-Royce Aerospace, said that criticisms of the Fadec system by the Ministry of Defence's own IT specialists were seen by senior officials as unhelpful. This is a factor in most IT disasters.

The inability of senior managers to treat potentially serious problems as anything more than teething troubles was one of the main causes of serious ITproblems at the Passport Agency, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Performing Right Society.

Perks has now submitted a paper to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee which explains why the Chinook's Fadec system was flawed.

One of the main challenges that faced the Chinook software project were the attempts of the IT specialists to hold the organisation's suppliers to account over the quality of their software, against a backdrop of delays and pressure from the RAF and MoD hierarchy to get the software into service.

The RAF's airworthiness assessors found themselves in dispute with the organisation's hierarchy as they sought to modify the software in light of tests which found coding anomalies and flaws in the documentation.

When the tension came to a head, and the IT specialists refused to endorse the software, the RAF and MoD hierarchy expressed anger and went elsewhere for advice.

One of the wider concerns of the assessors is that, if manufacturers are not held responsible for software that is not up to standard, this lack of accountability could in future lead to corners being cut with the design, development, testing and validation of software.

If safety-critical systems, on which lives depend, do not set the highest standards for the writing and documentation of systems, what message does this send to those who are writing, testing and validating code for business?

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