back to article Your Agile-built IT platform was 'terrible', Co-Op Insurance chief complained to High Court

A £175m IT platform for Co-Op Insurance that was subcontracted out by IBM to a third party was a "disaster" despite assurances it was an "out of the box" product, the insurer's CEO told London's High Court. Moreover, IBM's promise to deliver an "out of the box" insurance platform to Co-Op Insurance was "pivotal" to the insurer …

  1. Giovani Tapini

    We see only green here sir...

    Isn't that what anyone would expect from an IBM led delivery project. An artful construction of status reporting that ensure there is no issues at all except with the customer...

    And trying to control billable change requests with Agile is nonsense, you are changing as you go - that's a blank cheque, particularly if the project didn't waterfall long enough to identify the rough edges.

    As for selling vaporware - that's fairly standard, although IBM clearly didn't apply enough business knowledge to know this was going to be a bit tough. Not sure anywhere else has a premium tax like UK for example.

    Over £10m annually for support? yikes, I hope that is a very broad definition of support, or that would be another moneypit, attracting permanent fees for changes. Frankly that seems an awful lot in proportion, particularly as costs should go down over time, not up as the system stabilises in its new form.

    1. cschneid

      Re: We see only green here sir...

      > Isn't that what anyone would expect from an IBM led outsourced delivery project. An artful construction of status reporting that ensure there is no issues at all except with the customer...

      FTFY - it's not just IBM. I do think you are otherwise spot on.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: We see only green here sir...

        Yep.

        Dodged a bullet with Wipro. Just walked into minefield with IBM!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: We see only green here sir...

          But you know what you're getting with WiPro...

          Companies believe they are getting something different with IBM. Which is sort of true if you consider being lied to by well dressed weasels a billable item.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: We see only green here sir...

          Onwards to Oracle for the Hat trick!

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: We see only green here sir...

      As for selling vaporware - that's fairly standard

      It certainly was for IBM. ~30 years ago I worked for a GIS company and IBM was theoretically a rival except for the fact that their GIS offering was vapourware. It was originally called GFIS and then they changed it to just GIS, which let us point out to potential customers that there was no F in GIS software from IBM.

      1. GeekyDee

        Re: We see only green here sir...

        So IBM had no F's to give? odd, that

  2. Robert Grant Silver badge

    Erm

    Agile is mostly for making things. Why would you need it to implement a turn-key solution?

    1. D.A.

      Re: Erm

      This.

      Typical IBM - introduce (fake) Agile in a situation where it makes absolutely no sense to do so.

    2. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: Erm

      Without experience of this specific IBM product, you would:

      - run a sprint/iteration/etc to get it installed/up and running

      - run a sprint to configure user roles and security

      - run a sprint to configure external security and/or basic functionality

      - additional sprints extend the functionality, add integrations, implement any customisation, etc

      You won't go live until a few sprints have completed, but you can certainly go live before they all have.

      1. Steve K Silver badge

        Re: Erm

        That sounds like a waterfall approach in many ways

        1. Tom 38 Silver badge

          Re: Erm

          That sounds like a waterfall approach in many ways

          Yes, but with more meetings, standups and retrospectives and "games"!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Erm

            And there's your problem.

            If you just have twice as many meetings, standups and retrospectives, you'll clearly be producing twice as much work.

            Still not enough to finish on time? I have more solutions but I'm afraid I will have to charge you fr them as they are pretty clever...

        2. Cederic Silver badge

          Re: Erm

          Only to people that don't understand and value immediate feedback loops.

          1. Robert Grant Silver badge

            Re: Erm

            Immediate feedback on installation? What's to approve, when I can't log in yet? This is just a bog-standard list of tasks.

            I can imagine the retro.

            "Scrum" master: "What shall we stop doing and what shall we start doing?"

            Dev: er, stop doing the last one-off task and start the next one?

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Erm

      Agile is garbage no matter what circumstance.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Erm

        Agile as described in course and degree modules looks fantastic.

        In real life lots of people quietly step outside the method so that things get done properly, then Agile gets the credit.

        1. Champ

          Re: Erm

          As in this feature, Agile is mostly the current whipping boy for stuff going wrong.

          Firstly, "Agile" is a catch-all term for multiple working practices. These can be used brilliantly to deliver high quality, useful systems. But they are no guarantee, and you can definitely produce garbage with them too.

          If this project had been run under Prince 2, would anyone be blaming the methodology?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Agile?

    Most implimentations of it are decidely 'Fragile' IMHO.

    In fact... I'd almost go as far as saying that pretty well any 'Agile' methodology used by any large consultancy will be pretty fragile. Once you start loading all the corporate claptrap (sorry compliance and reporting and backstabbing) onto it, productivity dies a horrible slow death.

    1. HildyJ Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Agile?

      Agile is only agile in its agility to avoid blame.

    2. Jon 37

      Re: Agile?

      See:

      https://www.halfarsedagilemanifesto.org/

    3. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

      Re: Agile?

      Agreed. I mean, I'm sure there's some types of software where this could work just great. It's tempting, you get a system up very quickly with like 50-90% the functionality you need. Then that last 10%, it's the part where you have some element of luck, your design, choice of APIs, etc. that is 90% functional is just what you need for the last 10%, and it's no sweat. Or, that doesn't happen and that last 10% is a horrible slog to get it going, some few percent may never get done and there may be a few intractable bugs. These are cases where something closer to waterfall model is better, design up front.

  4. Sequin

    I've learnt from long and painful experience that going for a "tailored" package is almost invariably a nightmare.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Which is why the CO-OP CEO said they wanted an off-the-shelf product to avoid exactly those issues.

  5. Roo
    Windows

    One wonders if IBM is mired in Multiple Agile Backlog syndrome which is the usual end state of Agile in a large corporate concern. Specifically multiple backlogs, one for the devs doing the actual work, one to present the state of play to the upper manglement, and another that holds all the technical debt that isn't allowed to see the light of day because it looks "untidy", with the devs having to enter everything in triplicate...

    1. Giovani Tapini
      Thumb Up

      i recognise this...

      Multiple Agile Backlog syndrome - but I didn't know it had a name!

  6. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Whitebox

    Did the COOP not do their due diligence?

    Surely if you are the only customer in a country alarm bells should have rung?

    I reckon there were probably several techies and middle managers that were ringing those alarm bells that were ignored prior to the deal with IBM being done.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Whitebox

      I agree that it does seem that CO-OP missed a crucial step : a tech demo of the alleged whitebox product.

      I'm pretty sure that it should not have taken much time for actual experts in UK tax law to sniff out the major issues, and then tech wizards would have had a field day explaining how difficult it would be to get stuff changed.

      Not really blaming CO-OP, but hey : if you didn't find any ready-made package in your own country, why did think going to foreign source was a good idea ?

  7. Commswonk Silver badge

    Is this normal in the IT world?

    From the article: A £175m IT platform for Co-Op Insurance that was subcontracted out by IBM to a third party...

    The above made me shudder a bit. When I worked for <redacted> (an Agency of the Ministry of <redacted>) we set up a contract (or more correctly a contract was set up on our behalf) for the nationwide maintenance of quite a lot of (non - IT) equipment. We then found that much of the work was then subcontracted to other businesses of which we had no knowledge whatsoever, which was a bit of a nightmare because of the serious security concerns it raised.

    When the contract came up for renewal we managed to get the terms varied so that we had knowledge of those subcontractors in advance, which was a bit better, even if only a bit.

    Perhaps my views are out of date (excuse; I am long retired!) but if I were to contract out a chunk of work I would expect the company winning the contract to actually do the work and not pass it on to subcontractors of whom I have no knowledge, or (worse still) I would specifically not want to be involved, perhaps because of previous experience with them.

    To me a subcontracted contract rings the alarm bells very loudly indeed.

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: Is this normal in the IT world?

      It is normal, but it's also normal for contracts to have clarity on legal/financial responsibility and accountability for delivery.

      Under DPA some of those accountabilities can't be contracted out either (e.g. for data migration activities).

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Is this normal in the IT world?

      When I worked in a small public sector department, our standard T&Cs always had bits asking about sub-contracting.

    3. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Is this normal in the IT world?

      "Perhaps my views are out of date (excuse; I am long retired!) but if I were to contract out a chunk of work I would expect the company winning the contract to actually do the work and not pass it on to subcontractors of whom I have no knowledge"

      My views are a little different: I would expect the company winning the contract to be responsible for delivering it and to manage any sub-contractors. I would not expect to know about them, but I certainly wouldn't expect them to be blamed for any mistakes/delays etc as it would be none of my business who was doing the work.

      Let's say I got a builder in to do an extension on my house. We agree the plans, the price and the timescales. I don't really care if he has to subcontract parts: He may need plumbers, plasterers, glasiers etc. However, I would not expect to have to organise things with these subcontractors directly. It would be the original builder's responsibility to organise these contractors, to ensure they are up to scratch, to QA their work and to pay them. If they failed to deliver on time, it would be the original builder who would be hit by any penalties, so I would expect them to ensure the subcontractors were on track.

      1. Some Random Kiwi

        Re: Is this normal in the IT world?

        Re: your builder example. Don't know what country you're in, but in the USA a subcontractor who is not paid by the contractor can place a lien on the property where the work was performed. You'll have to pay them, even if you *already paid* the contractor if the contractor didn't pay their subs. You then are left suing the contractor to recover the money.

        1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

          Re: Is this normal in the IT world?

          I did not know that.

          I'm based in the UK. I am not aware of anything similar over here, but then again I am not a lawyer so there may be.

          It seems a bit ridiculous, though, when your contract was never with the subcontractor in the first place. Then again, I know consumer protections are much different on that side of the pond.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Is this normal in the IT world?

          These are "mechanic's liens", and they're governed by state law, not Federal, so the details vary among the states. Many states have imposed various requirements and constraints on mechanic's liens.

          It's not just subcontractors - materials suppliers, such as lumberyards, can also file mechanic's liens in at least some states, as can architects and engineers.

          Mechanic's liens encumber the title to the property, and are one reason why title insurance (which includes a search for encumbrances and irregularities) is required to secure a loan to purchase real property in the US.

          There are ways for homeowners to protect themselves from mechanic's liens, typically including requiring the general contractor provide a Release of Lien when the final payment is made; the GC will have to obtain the dependent releases from the subs, which prevents them from filing liens.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is this normal in the IT world?

      There was this gem from te Grenfell inquiry which I feel is relevant:

      ""...each core participant who played a material part in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower has laid out a detailed case for how it relied on the work of others, and how in no way was the work it did either substandard or non-compliant.

      "In every case, what happened was, as each of them would have it, someone else’s fault.”"

      While it's unlikely that IBM's world renowned lawyers will lose this case, I d wonder if the world might be a better place if sub-contracting responsibility with no oversight was punished harshly. While the buyer should beware, the seller taking the money and washing their hands of delivery benefits no on other than the seller in the long run.

  8. SVV Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Another Agile project screwed because of fools who don't understand what it is meant to be about

    "The reason for this was threefold: (i) to avoid incurring costly changes to the software during implementation; (ii) because changes to the original software can be time-consuming and risk implementation deadlines; and (iii) to ensure the system stays on the upgrade path to avoid high service costs after implementation."

    (i) You are meant to expect to have to make changes during the implementation. And manage them on your constantly changing plan. That's why it's called "agile", because that adaptability is built in to the philosophy.

    (ii) If you can't make changes because they're too time consuming, then you can't run it as an agile project. It's just monolithic software, probably very badly designed and written. Deadlines should change as requirements change : you can't have a fixed deadline agile project.

    (iii) With agile, you're supposed to implement only what's required now, not hypothetical future scenarios, as they are the worst reasons for projects massively overrunning or getting so overcomplicated that they're hard to change. Being overzealous about this is one of the shortcomings of people who view agile as a religion in my view, as sometimes it's fairly obvious what the future will involve, but there's no rule to say that you can't incorporate a bit of time for extending software to ease future extensibility into your agile project plan.

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

      Re: Another Agile project screwed because of fools who don't understand what it is meant to be about

      Re your point (ii) : Yes this confused me as well. Even if as IBM say, that they were hit with "large" change requests, surely they would have managed those as per any programme/project change request process which (depending on the size and scope) would have triggered a mutual governance conversation re the impact on overall time and cost via an exception report?

      Sure, slightly different for Agile, but none the less, I'm not sure why IBM seem to have baulked at it so hard, unless the Co-Op at this point had realised that IBM had sold them a dead dog?

      1. Bitsminer

        Re: Another Agile project screwed because of fools who don't understand what it is meant to be about

        IBM ... were hit with "large" change requests

        Lol. CRs are normally requested by the customer, then quoted by the vendor (IBM) with costs, scope, schedule changes listed as part of an optional quotation for the CR. The customer must then accept the quote, or decline it. IBM weren't hit, they were gifted with CRs.

        And now they complain. Or, their litigators complain. Ahh, the blindness of justice.

  9. marky_boi

    frAGILE bahhhhh hummm buggg

    I f$^&&^ing hate agile.. our operational team is supposed to be now working agile ... like WTF?!?!?!? we fix shit.. can't wait to see this crumbling edifice fail in my company !!

    1. Jay 2

      Re: frAGILE bahhhhh hummm buggg

      I've only recently got to know anything about Agile as I'm a sys admin. I've been on a cloudy project which had loads of people involved (dev, sys admin, network, infosec). I can sort of see the pros and cons for its use in making something.

      A few weeks back I went on an "Agile bootcamp" and on that someone asked if Agile could be used for operational teams/projects. The answer was a resounding no. There's some other methodology which is better for ops, but I can't remember what it was.

      1. Martin M

        Idiots

        Depends on the flavour of Agile approach. Scrum is the most common, and is all many people know, but isn't at all sensible for ops - perhaps that was what the answer was based on?

        But Kanban can work rather well for teams doing a mix of incremental improvement, releases, incident response, daily tasks, support for major project deliveries etc.. It's not perfect out of the box.

        Not sure if they're still doing it now, but Netflix ops were using a tweaked version of it a while ago - well prior to the crescendo of Agile hype - and they generally know what they're doing. Others too, if you Google. I've seen it work well - it's no big deal, really more of a visualisation/formalisation of what good ops teams tend to do naturally anyway. Really just a task board with some constraints on it that tend to encourage helpful behaviour. It must of course be integrated with your ticketing system to work.

        1. D.A.

          Re: Idiots

          Kanban is NOT an Agile methodology (although it often gets lumped in there).

          To clarify: Kanban (on its own) is a process improvement framework.

          The Kanban Method for Software Development (by David Anderson et al) is a means of leveraging Kanban to develop software in a less wasteful way.

          Agile is not a process or a framework. It’s a mindset or way of being that allows you to change direction quickly. “Doing” Scrum or Kanban does not make your business agile.

          And implementing SAFe definitely doesn’t.

        2. stiine Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Idiots

          Google? Really?

          Based on this shit that the Youtube Android app is turning into, and the absolute shitshow that Google Search has become, I think you are absolutely incorrect.

    2. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: frAGILE bahhhhh hummm buggg

      Agile methodologies, used well and understood to a reasonable level throughout the business, can be very effective. A lot of the time, it just becomes a pattern which helps a team to organise themselves. Done right, it's highly flexible and can be made to work in a wide variety of circumstances.

      Unfortunately there are a lot of places which use it badly. This often comes down to a lack of training or bad management or team members. This is the same as most problems in projects.

      Agile is a tool. Used well in the right circumstances, it's great. Used badly and/or in the wrong circumstances, it will cause problems.

  10. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    OOTB?

    OOTB with 9 months agile customization? That sounds neither OOTB or particularly "agile" to me and would have set my alarm bells ringing from day one. It would also add a lot to the TCO in terms of ongoing maintenance and upgrades if they are customizing the base software code.

    Did he mean 9 months "configuration"? Even if so, that still doesn't sound particularly OOTB.

  11. james_smith Silver badge

    IBM promising the moon on a stick at the sales stage? Sounds familiar. We had IBM come in to present their cloud hosting a few years back. Two very smug, expensively suited salesmen told us pretty much word for word "Whatever you need we have it and we're better than anyone else". Forunately myself and my equally cynical boss asked for a trial account. It turned out to be the least mature of the alternatives we were looking at, and amusingly the performance went through the floor when our virtual servers were migrated from a European to US data centre. This migration was unannounced and contrary to the agreed policy that for regulatory reasons our data would not leave the EU.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Agile.

    Lol.

    I have nothing else to add.

  13. The Nazz Silver badge

    The process needs to be hugely streamlined.

    KISS

    Square 1 :

    Is there any evidence that the Def. sought an OOTB solution.

    Yes/No

    Square 2 :

    Is there any evidence that the Clm. offered to deliver an OOTB solution.

    Yes/No

    Square 3

    is there any evidence that such a contract was agreed?

    Yes/No

    Square 4

    is there any evidence that an OOTB solution, any solution was delivered in an operable state, anywhere near within 9 months, if at all?

    No/No

    Judge :

    Right, i judge for the Def. I'm off down the pub for beer and sandwiches, anyone wish to join me. Oh, and the Clm is buying.

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