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e-Envoy's Office loses bearings with Project True North

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A major project by the e-Envoy's Office to set up central data centres to host the UK's most critical eGovernment systems is understood to be in serious difficulties.

The procurement, known as "Project True North" has suffered delays, missed key implementation targets and is now several months behind schedule. Perhaps indicating the scale of the problems facing the project, the Office of the e-Envoy (OeE) has taken the unusual step of refusing to answer enquiries on the current situation.

The data centre procurement was intended to provide a vendor who would deliver managed hosting services for the core eGovernment infrastructure, such as the Government Gateway, the Knowledge Network and the UK Online citizen portal, for seven years. The OeE issued a tender in April 2002 and featured the project in the UK Online Annual Report last November, stating that the contract would be awarded in March, for a go-live date of mid-2003.

Problems began to emerge, however, when in March this year, a Director in the e-Envoy's Office disclosed that the contract award date had been pushed back to May.

Asked whether the contract had now been awarded and when the project would go live, the OeE responded with a two-line statement which read: "We have nothing to comment on this at the present time. More information will be available in due course." The OeE was given a further opportunity to comment but did not take this up.

Currently, the UK's critical national eGovernment infrastructure is situated in different data centres, in different locations and is managed by different vendors. As well as providing scope for reduced costs, one of the main reasons for the procurement was the "security resilience model" offered by a central hosting environment.

In an ironic twist, Douglas Alexander, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, reassured MPs in the House of Commons last week over concerns that the Government would not provide full information on any 'problems or failures' in the drive towards eGovernment. The Minister told Parliament: "There is little to fear in terms of transparency of the work that we will undertake in relation to the 2005 targets".

Sources UK Online Annual Report 2002 (States March 2003 contract award date) Contract award date now May 2003 (p25) Douglas Alexander in the House of Commons

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