By Tony Collins
A 43-page report obtained by The Times says that a Ministry of Defence IT network modernisation programme that provides “mission critical” services is about £210m over budget and more than two years late.
The global connectivity programme underpins almost every significant information service used by the MoD.
In 2015 Fujitsu announced that it had won a five-year contract worth more than £550m to provide core global connectivity services. It was one of two contracts that would “bring savings of £1bn which will be directly reinvested by the MoD in defence capability”.
Fujitsu said at the time (2015),
“The new network will underpin the delivery of current and emerging MoD services both in the UK and overseas. The Fujitsu solution replaces Defence Fixed Telecommunications Service (DFTS) and the LAN services provided by the ATLAS Consortium, with a modern, agile and robust set of network (LAN/WLAN and WAN) services designed to improve service levels and align to the new ways of working demanded by the modern users wherever they operate.”
But a 28% cost overrun is forecast and the project is 26 months behind schedule. The report noted that “cost and time overruns could well worsen”, said The Times.
A race is on to ensure that key networks stay online beyond June, when BT’s contract ends. An extension to the original contract is likely.
The MoD ordered the review by Actica Consulting and PA Consulting last autumn. It identified 66 factors that contributed to the problems and noted that there was no evidence that these had been eliminated.
It appears from Army IT contractors and the report that the problems have been caused, in the main, by the MoD’s changing specifications.
The Times said that MoD officials were accused of a “failure to understand what is mission- critical”. The report said, “To be clear: current military operations would cease without the network services that the programme is replacing. These services are mission critical.” The authors said of the programme’s services: “Without it the MoD cannot operate. This, however, appears to have been overlooked at key points.”
Problems were identified early but “permitted to persist until time pressures had become critical”. Other problems included senior team “overstretch” and a “failure of leadership to listen to ‘real world’ technical realities”.
An MoD spokesman told The Times, “Maintaining a modern military network that is fit for the future and can withstand intensifying cyberthreats is complex but we are already implementing our plan for the way forward.
“There will be no interruption to network services during this transition and no operations will be at risk.”
Thank you to openness campaigner David Orr for alerting me to The Times’ article.
The MoD has a history of failed IT-based projects and programmes. Its multi-billion pound Defence Information Infrastructure was described at one point as an “unmitigated disaster“.
More recently, the MoD hired Capita to provide an army recruitment system that proved disastrous.
Now a Fujitsu IT network modernisation programme that provides “mission critical” services is about £210m over budget, is more than two years late and the problems have not been eliminated.
It’s tempting to blame the failures on the MoD’s age-old convention of awarding oversized contracts to the same old major suppliers.
But MoD IT-based project failures recur for the same reason governments and the public sector generally continue to have major project failures: civil and public servants – and contractors – work in a bubble. They have no fear of the consequences of failure.
In the private sector, directors care and sometimes worry about the bottom line. In the public sector there is nothing to worry about. Protected from outside scrutiny or even individual identification, senior civil and public servants have no real accountability.
Success or failure, departmental leaders always get their knighthoods.
If the MoD had to publish progress reports on its major IT-based programmes things would be different. Departments are untroubled by failure. They are bothered by publicised failure. Senior civil servants do not welcome justified bad publicity.
If the MoD had to publish its progress reports on the Fujitsu contract, its senior officials would have an incentive to avoid failure.
As things stand, there is no incentive or disincentive to avoid failure. They have no reason to care, particularly if close to retirement.
Francis Maude, when he was Cabinet Office minister, tried to introduce accountability and openness. Once he left, things went back to normal. The Whitehall bubble re-emerged.
Thus, continued IT-related disasters at the MoD and within the public sector are inevitable and eternal. Why would Whitehall officials try hard to avoid them?