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Poor IT could leave Brit troops hanging in Afghanistan

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Poor IT is threatening defence supplies until a new programme is implemented in 2014, a group of MPs has warned in a new report.

In "The use of information to manage the defence logistics supply chain", the public accounts committee (PAC) says the IT systems now being used to track supplies are not up to the task, due largely to insufficient spending on upgrades. This is contributing to the late delivery of supplies and spare parts for equipment, which is leading frontline troops to cannibalise vehicles and planes.

It is part of a long running problem: similar shortcomings have been identified by the PAC in reports going back to 1986, and the National Audit Office published a similar report – albeit in less alarmist language – in March.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is now aiming to solve the problems through the Future Logistics Information Services (Flis) project, which includes upgrades to the warehouse inventory management IT system. But this will not be complete until 2014 – in part because of the need to clean existing data – and until then there is a high risk of failure in systems that are critical in supporting frontline troops.

The report says there is also a risk that the budget for the project may be reduced or cut completely as the MoD needs to reduce its spending, although the contract has already been signed and is being implemented.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the PAC, said: "A more efficient supply chain could release resources for the frontline. But the department does not have the information to develop more cost-effective ways of running its supply operations.

"The department is now seeking to resolve its information problems through a major initiative, the Future Logistics Information Services project, due to be implemented by 2014. However, there is a risk that funding for this project could be reduced as the department seeks to lower spending and balance its overall budget.

"In the meantime, IT systems being used to track supplies will remain at critical risk of failure. If they fail, there could be shortages at the frontline within a month."

Peter Luff, the minister for defence equipment, support and technology, said in response that supplies to the frontline are a top priority and that the department has reduced the time it takes to deliver most urgent items by more than half.

"We are also committed to achieving value for money and improvements have been made," Luff said. "Far from reducing the budget in this area, we are investing £800m in the Flis project to ensure the supply chain is as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

"We are placing greater demands on industry to hit their delivery schedules, and more broadly we are pushing through radical reform across the MoD to instigate a new emphasis on financial rigour and cost control," he said.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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