back to article UK government has 'no clear plan' for replacing ageing legacy IT estate, MPs report

UK government has "no clear plan" to set out how it will replace ageing legacy systems vital for the operation of the public sector, despite some systems dating back to the 1970s, according to a committee of MPs. The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee said the machines looking after data on the UK's borders and paying the …

  1. hoola Silver badge

    Are they sure

    I am puzzled, there clearly is some sort of plan judging by the number of multi-million (and billion) pound contracts that have been put up for grabs by various departments over the last 6 months.

    If they mean that they keep spending money for no tangible gain, then yes everyone probably agrees with that.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Are they sure

      Well that explains it all. They've spent all the money, so there's none left for the boring stuff like keeping government IT creaking along.

      Not a problem, when it finally falls over completely, there will be a great big, wonderful £10 billion contract that will immediately be handed to Crapita.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Are they sure

        Pascal Monett: "there will be a great big, wonderful £10 billion contract that will immediately be handed to Crapita."

        Which is precisely the problem. Would you pay Capita* to 'upgrade' a 20 year old IT system that is currently sort of working? The civil servants probably want someone who will actually do a decent job, but only a large IT company could possibly have the resources to do a proper job and most of them have a record including serious overruns, delays and the occasional abject failure (yes, I am thinking of e-Borders and Post Office 'Horizon' system).

        It is much easier to plan if there is a theoretical solution that might actually work, but I suspect that the issue of renovating all HMG's outdated and unsupported IT systems has been firmly put on the "much too difficult" pile.

        *Other equally 'able' government IT outsourcing and systems integration companies are available, I believe.

  2. Bogle
    Flame

    None at all

    'UK government has "no clear plan".'

    There, FIFY.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: None at all

      "No Plan" would suffice

      1. JassMan

        Re: None at all @John Robson

        I don't think UKGov has had a plan since they came into power after the last Labour Government. They have said many times they have had plans but not one of them has seen the light of day till several months after announcement. Even when they appear they are only half thought through.

        As for Boris with his several "oven ready" deals and plans for various stages of Brexit and not needing any transition times offered by the EU, we wouldn't have the Northern Ireland stand-off if he was capable of planning his way out of a paper bag. I won't say he lies about his "plans". I won't even allege that his plans are so secret that he won't present them to parliament, because we all know that Prime Ministers are totally honourable and beyond reproach.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: None at all @John Robson

          Do you think that Boris personally manages the maintenance and migration away from that ICL mainframe, or do you think that might perhaps be managed by a civil service IT professional?

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: None at all @John Robson

            I think that the civil service are completely hamstrung by the regular reversals of decisions.

            There is only so much that you can plan for when the target moves more often, and more erratically, than a cockroach with ADHD.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: None at all @John Robson

              Yes. Because business never, ever changes decisions and directions like a spinning top in pursuit of a higher share price and always has a rationally planned and well funded 50 year plan that is never deviated from one iota.

              </sarcasm>

          2. Eff Flintstone

            Re: None at all @John Robson

            "Do you think that Boris personally manages the maintenance and migration away from that ICL mainframe, or do you think that might perhaps be managed by a civil service IT professional?"

            The difference between BloJo and an actual leader is the difference between:

            - "Do some stuff. Waffle waffle... IT... world-beating... exponential... fight this battle... crush the enemy..."

            [pauses to check metaphor cliche list]

            and:

            - "Here is a list of IT items I'm aware of. Please provide your thoughts so we can agree a priority list and plan"

            1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

              Re: None at all @John Robson

              "Do some stuff. Waffle waffle... IT... world-beating... exponential... fight this battle... crush the enemy..."

              I believe that was actually

              "Do some stuff. Hic ego dico stercore anserem integrum. IT... world-beating expenditure... exponential financial outlay... fight this battle and privatise ... crush the people ..."

          3. Warm Braw

            Re: None at all @John Robson

            The problem is that successive governments make radical changes to policy (particularly in the area of pensions and benefits) without any thought as to the cost of delivery. A lot of those "legacy" systems are costly and unreliable because they depend on manual processes to "correct" their results as the rules for which they were originally developed no longer apply to new claimants though they continue (in increasing part) to apply to historic awards.

            There's always going to be an IT problem when we have politics by whim.

        2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: None at all @John Robson

          "As for Boris with his several "oven ready" deals... "

          With Boris, Buns in ovens is where he excels

      2. Binraider Silver badge

        Re: None at all

        There is a plan, but it extended no further than winning the last election plus gerrymandering the system to try and keep it for the next one.

        Everything else is just plain demonstrable incompetence.

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: None at all

      Did you say they have a new clear plan then? Only for a second there, I thought it sounded like "nuclear plan".

    3. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: None at all

      The only plan the government has is for a piss up in a brewery.

      And they cant get that right (or the plebs finding out about it)

      1. NeilPost Silver badge

        Re: None at all

        … at least they reduced Beer Duty

        1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

          Re: None at all

          … at least they reduced Beer Duty

          For the larger, often multi-national, brewers that didn't need the support, while carefully not doing so for smaller, often local or 'micro', brewers that don't sell beer in large casks and by existing, provide variety and choice.

          Beer Today: draught duty won’t help small brewers

          A 5% cut in draught beer duty will only apply to beers and ciders served from casks and kegs more than 40 litres in size. However, many producers pack their products in smaller amounts, which are also popular with rural and micro pubs.

          Thirty-litre kegs, a key size for craft brewers, and small casks of real ale (36-pint pins) are excluded, as is bag-in-the-box cider and perry.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've worked on several projects in Scotland that involve either merging existing services or separating services from UK national services to Scotland national services (due to devolution) and it's clear every time that no one has any idea of the scope of what they are doing or how they will do it.

    Airwave is a prime example, lets replace it with a system based on 4G despite large parts of Scotland, England and Wales being sparsely populated and full of hills, and so having patchy 2G coverage at best.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But of we don't bother with all that coverage, or the resilience of the network, or various features of the network that are pretty useful.

      Then we can embezzle^H save a few quid.

      Who needs a resilient system anyway. I haven't used my fire extinguisher in years so I got rid of it.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        re: Fire extinguishers, sort of

        WARNING - HORRIFYING, TRULY HORRIFYING

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNBTE71iQmU

    2. teacakes

      technology and engineers don't matter anymore when you have people who are simply 'officers', administrators, sellers, and managers for managing's sake rising through the ranks, to hollow-out the already hollow organisations until they just another service/selling/middleman franchise.

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    There's a distinct advantage for govt departments having an ancient system. It provides a scapegoat.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Scaped goat-leg a cie. I believe that's on the menu for the Christmas Party at Whitehall this year.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        They never manage to serve enough helpings of the well-deserved humble pie.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Does that come with a side-serving of croque d'merde?

  5. a_yank_lurker

    Gubermints

    The Ferals will tell London to hold my beer and show the world how to be the most incompetent. Remember the Ferals managed bugger up Obamacare.

    1. Chris G

      Re: Gubermints

      I think the British gov' is quite capable of a high level of incompetence without the aid of a far younger government, as with the CIA the UK gov' has been doing it for a longer time and had to show the US how to lie cheat and steal during WWII.

      But thanks for the offer!

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Gubermints

        Chris G: "I think the British gov' is quite capable of a high level of incompetence"

        Well, as it is Christmas, how about:

        "The Blunders of our Governments" by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe - lots of HMG's greatest mistakes and failures. ISBN 978-1-78074-405-6

        or

        "On the psychology of military incompetence" by Norman Dixon. Lists many of the UK army's major failures from losing the 'impregnable' fortress of Singapore to the abysmal failure of the 'battle' of Spion Kop. ISBN 978-0-712-65889-8

        Both are fascinating reads and frankly, it makes you appreciate all the more when any government actually gets anything to work at all.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Gubermints

          Update on the Horizon debacle (HMG incompetence):

          https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/dec/14/uk-taxpayer-to-foot-bill-for-post-office-staff-wrongly-convicted-of-theft

          "The government has agreed that the taxpayer will foot the substantial compensation bill for former Post Office workers who were wrongly convicted of theft due to the defective Horizon IT system."

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    News?......Sorry El Reg, This Is Not News.....

    ....and if you don't believe me, take a look at this (old) link:

    - Link: https://www.softwareadvisoryservice.com/en/blog/biggest-uk-government-project-failures/

    Yup......billions down the drain in the past.....and in the present as well.....and probably in the future too.

    But then there's the big red bus: £350Million EACH WEEK to support the NHS. Another lie on top of the other billions wasted......

    Not news to some of us!

  7. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    It's not the ancient mainframe causing mispayments of pensions, it's the data and processing on the mainframe. Transfer it wholesale to a newer system and it will make exactly the same mispayments - just faster and more efficiently.

    1. Mnot Paranoid
      Joke

      Surely...

      You could just bung in a couple of Raspberry Pi 4 clusters and call it a day.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "more efficiently"

      WTF? I thought we were talking about government IT.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I was involved in a project to replace the old ICL mainframe circa 2003 (ish).

      We looked at the project and we soon found that out what the problem was and still is, that the system has had change upon change upon change upon change for 30+ years and nobody is really sure what everything does and how it fits together.

      Also it's not in a nice relational database but in some propriety format that most of the people who knew anything about it had died off years ago.

      The changes in govt legislation over the years along with things that needed to be kept going, e.g WW1 widows pensions, meant there was no clear specification to work from, indeed any specification was rubbish as it was incomplete.

      We came to the conclusion that this was a very, very risky project, that would cost billions, take many years and have no firm chance of success. Not the sort of project we wanted. I suspect nothing has changed.

      Anybody who takes this on, needs big brass ones and a full time therapist.

      Anonymous as I still have govt work.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        re: ICL legacy system

        Did it use the ICL proprietary Data Dictionary System? I worked on the DDS750 and DDS800 version releases in the 1980's. Most of the people who knew how it worked as a product were quite a bit older than me and will have long since retired and possibly died.

        What needs to be done is commission a review to decide exactly what a replacement system would have to do, and then specify and build it. But the investigation would probably take 4 to 5 years, during which time the rules would have changed ...

    4. teacakes

      piss poor input, and management failures, and lazy freeloaders who can always parrot the rhetoric to blame the tools, since they believe they are 'owed' a one-button, 5-minute input, flawless automated solution, that allows them to have tea & biscuits all day and be free to gossip/bitch/discuss their lives for 9 minutes in every 10.

  8. h3nb45h3r

    Whatever, just please...

    Stop giving Fushitsu contracts...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Whatever, just please...

      And Crapita and.......

  9. JohnMurray

    They have a plan.

    They just can't find an IT vendor that will donate a few £illion to Conservative HQ.

    Yet.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vulnerable

    From personal experience I have found legacy systems to often be far less vulnerable to attack than any modern system based on Windows 7 to 11. Is it any wonder they are still working and stable.

    Hats off to the systems analyst and programmers of the time. Systems analyst, that's a term I don't hear anymore. What's the new name or did they become redundant?

    1. TiredNConfused80

      Re: Vulnerable

      ...and that is of itself one of the problems. The old systems (and i'm not just talking about government here, a lot of businesses have them too) just keep going and going so it's very hard to convince upper management to spend the big bucks to replace them.

      In the mean time the cludges and fixes needed to get the old systems talking to newer systems that are also being brought online (and newer user desktops which fail and need replacement much more regularly) get more and more complex and likely to fail. That's where the real weakness usually is.

  11. dedmonst
    Pirate

    whither GDS?

    Which just goes to show that all that Cabinet Office/GDS nonsense from back in 2010-2014 was just "fiddling at the edges". This is what happens when you let a bunch of guys who "created a website" try and do proper software engineering and data processing. (It's no real surprise that a PR gonk like Cameron fell for all this BS)

  12. codejunky Silver badge

    Shocked

    Of course a simple answer would be that its all too complicated and so slim the gov and simplify the rules.

  13. mmonroe

    There is an upside

    I've ploughed the legacy furrow for my entire IT career of 41 years. I've pretty much always been in work and I haven't had to be bothered with learning the latest newfangled nonsense. I leave that to the wet behind the ears, know it all whippersnappers.

    1. drand

      Re: There is an upside

      I've known a few of the same disposition.

      We lovingly refer to them as Trailing-Edge Technology Specialists.

    2. Bill 21

      Re: There is an upside

      Trailing edge, yes that was me too.

      The trick was always to ensure you didn't end up in the recycle bin along with the system when its time was up. But then there was always a stream of 'new' old kit coming your way for some TLC.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NHS IT

    And yet at the other end of the chain there's no shortage of new IT equipment.

    The NHS buys new desktop computers with a three year warranty and then gives them away for peanuts after two years. Refurb companies then give them a check over, fit a new SSD and flog them for a big profit. This has been happening for nearly fifteen years now.

    The NHS really needs to bring this in house or at least get a government backed organisation to run it. Remploy?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clear plan, unclear funding

    > UK government has "no clear plan" to set out how it will replace ageing legacy systems vital for the operation of the public sector

    A clear plan is relatively easy to obtain. Paying for it is the problem.

    Anon because my client is a gov dept at the moment. We know what needs doing but there's no money so it's done on a fire-fighting basis alongside trying to implement all the other new demands placed on the IT. If we're lucky a handful of systems might get upgraded 'properly' each year out of hundreds.

  16. SGJ

    Freudian slip?

    The Committee report has an interesting error in the Summary. It says that the Home Office has now recognised that more effective working with the police is fundamental and so it has "changed tact"!

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Freudian slip?

      When I was little I thought TACT was an acronym from The Art of Concealing Things.

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