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MoD defends £5bn IT system

It's not an 'unmitigated disaster'

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The Ministry of Defence has moved to quash claims that its Defence Information Infrastructure programme is an 'unmitigated disaster'.

It has told GC News that thousands of new IT terminals are being installed each month, and that changes in the programme have been made to respond to the demands created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The MoD has responded to a joint investigation by Channel 4 News and Computer Weekly which claimed the project was massively behind schedule and would cost an extra £1bn.

Channel 4 uncovered several internal emails from defence staff, which savaged parts of the system for not working. One described the roll out of the DII in the infantry guided weapons integrated project team as "an unmitigated disaster".

The project, which was awarded to the EDS led consortium, Atlas, in March 2005, aims to bring together some 300 disparate defence IT systems under a single infrastructure to improve communication and support across the entire defence community. But the MoD admitted that last year it had been hit by major problems.

The project has apparently changed 22 times, and only about a quarter of the 70,000 systems that were due to have been installed under the original plan had been implemented by the end of July 2007.

Government expenditure plans for 2007-08 now put the projected cost of the DII at £5bn – a £1bn increase from previous estimates.

It has also emerged that last month, the chief of defence material, general Sir Kevin O'Donoghue, told staff in a letter that there have been major problems at the first major site to have DII installed, at Abbey Wood, near Bristol.

An Atlas spokesperson told Channel 4: "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."

But he said those problems had now been fixed, adding: "The latest feedback we have from Abbey Wood is that the situation is stabilised and our client is content with the way we're handling that."

The MoD reaffirmed this view. A spokesperson told GC News that new IT terminals are being implemented at a rate of 3,000 to 4,000 a month, and the 70,000 target would be reached next year.

She said that changes to the programme had to be made whenever there was a change in the defence "environment", and that some of these had been very minor. "Every time there is a change to the environment, you need to revise it," she said. "That's part of a programme like this, it needs to be flexible."

She claimed that when the DII was first planned the "defence environment was completely different. We weren't fighting in two theatres (Iraq and Afghanistan)". She conceded that major organisational restructures had affected the programme, notably the merger of the Defence Logistics Organisation and the Defence Procurement Agency into the new Defence Equipment & Support organisation.

"The programme has overcome a number of obstacles during the early stages of roll out," said the spokesperson. "The benefits and efficiencies of DII are being delivered; roll out has improved significantly and is now consistently delivering 3,000-4,000 terminals per month with 50,000+ users benefiting. Lessons have been learnt from both the MoD and Atlas perspective to ensure the process is more effective on future sites."

The reason for the increase in costs was that depreciation had been included in the government figures for the first time, she explained.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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