C4 News/Computer Weekly have reported yet another huge government IT disaster (see vid). This time it's MOD's Defence Information Infrastucture (DII) project, originally budgeted at £4bn, now costed at £5bn, running way behind schedule, and not working properly.
In case you don't know, DII is another top-down mega-project to replace hundreds of separate IT systems of various vintages with a single gigantic all-singing system. It was intended to bring together all the information the MOD and the forces need, from logistics, to missile launching, to intelligence gathering. And as well as the software, it was going to involve the installation of 150,000- yes, 150,000- terminals (cf the mere 20,000 "men with guns" we can now muster- see this blog).
The contract was awarded in March 2005 in one giant dollop, to the Atlas consortium, headed by our old friends EDS. It was the biggest single HMG contract ever. But delivery has slipped badly, and according to CW:
"Staff are dissatisfied with some of the systems installed so far; and they ask why the roll-out is continuing despite significant disruption.
One said the roll out of DII in the Infantry Guided Weapons integrated project team has been an unmitigated disaster. Another said that if there were a problem with equipment during operations, such as the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or a safety incident, there may not be a quick response."
Which for our beleaguered troops must be just about the flaming limit.
The man from EDS admits they "dropped the ball" (not for the first time IIRC), but the real issue is much more fundamental. As Tony Collins, the CW Editor, asks in his blog:
"Is it really possible to bring together on a single Windows-based infrastructure hundreds of varied systems which operate at different levels of security at hundreds of defence sites at all three services, the army, navy and air force? We have our doubts.
If it all works it could save huge sums being spent on perpetuating a variety of systems. It could also help troops at, or near, the front line where information is presented to them from different systems that don’t always talk to each other.
But £5bn is a lot of money to risk on a project that may or may not work. And disruption at MoD sites may sometimes be too serious to be trivialised as the inevitable result of a new system bedding down."
It's all so horribly, teeth-grindingly familiar.
This government has an abysmal record with its huge IT projects. And a key reason is that their pie in the sky aspirations are way beyond the real world's capability to deliver.
From the NHS Supercomputer, to their wildly ambitious plan for hi-tech ID cards, to this MOD project, they dream up the Big Plan in Whitehall, generally without any real user consultation, and then just drop it down from on high. One size fits all, untested technology, huge expense, open-ended delay, and massive disruption to existing operations- the results are really too dismal to recount.
Earlier this year, a senior civil servant disclosed that the government is currently spending £14bn pa on IT, equivalent to around £600 per household, or 4p on the standard rate of income tax.
He also said 70% of the projects end in failure (see this blog).
Who ever thought Big is Best?
PS We wish C4 News and Newsnight would cut the production gimmicks on their pre-recorded reports (sinister music, sci-fi lighting etc). Who's it supposed to impress? True, we amateur video makers can't resist the SFX pack in our editing software, but surely the pros should have outgrown that. Why can't they do it straight? We news junkies can take it, and nobody else watches anyway.
PPS Talking of DII, what do you make of the MOD guy's hair? Surely it can't have been that colour on the bottle. It makes ex-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's look almost natural, as you can check out in this vid (also... erm... if you were German Chancellor, would you be up for torchlight ceremonials with the Wehrmacht? Just a thought).