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The ambassador's IT angst

'Unfortunately, Prism has gone wrong'

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The Foreign Office's efforts to replace 30 different IT systems with a new information management service, known as Prism, is "substantially behind time" and causing "great dissastisfaction" in embassies and consulates around the world, according to a parliamentary report issued on 8 March 2006.

MPs on Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee cite damning testimonials on efforts to introduce the new IT system. It reports one anguished official as saying: "In the FCO's long history of ineptly implemented IT initiatives, Prism is the most badly designed, ill-considered one of the lot."

A further 81 letters reviewed by the MPs are said to present a flavour of the "true scale of anger in the ranks" at the implementation of the system.

"Anyone who has visited a post where Prism has been rolled out knows that many staff are at their wits' end about it," the report says.

Prism is an IT system designed for a large global organisation that needs to generate, process, store and access key financial and management data. In addition to being a technology package, it is also a programme for change in working practices and covers the Secret Intelligence Service - MI6 as well as regular offices.

Given the scale of Prism, the MPs conclude that it is "disappointing but not surprising" that its implementation is running late.

MPs are also concerned that the FCO has been less than open in providing details of the Prism delays to Parliament. They say that repeated failures to volunteer internal reviews of Prism is "evidence of a disturbing aversion on the part of FCO management to proper scrutiny of its activities".

One internal review carried out by senior Foreign Office manager Norman Ling concluded that the project was "high risk" and that "too little forward planning led to hasty and bad decisions".

The MPs say they are disappointed that the FCO has so far only responded to its concerns with a "general statement" that it is following the recommendations of the Ling report. A key recommendation of the parliamentary investigation is for the FCO to strengthen its capacity to oversee IT enabled change management programmes. It also calls on the FCO to provide Parliament with regular updates on the implementation of Prism.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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