HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has come under fire after plans to move systems out of ageing data centres into new facilities were delayed. A government report lists the migration as one of several public sector tech schemes which are stalling, and warns “successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable” with Brexit and other unforeseen changes to the plan taking the blame.
The data centre migration project, dubbed ‘Securing our Technical Future’ by HMRC, is one of nearly 30 projects facing delays, cost overruns or difficulties outlined in the new annual report produced by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), a joint unit of the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury. It looks at the viability of programs that fall within the Government Major Projects Portfolio.
These projects, which are marked ‘red’ in the report, are seen as having “major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery,” according to the IPA report, with each of the projects unlikely to be “manageable or resolvable” unless they are re-scoped or given an increased budget.
Earlier this year it was revealed that HMRC awarded a contract to IBM to help it exit three Fujitsu data centres that were some of the final hold-outs in its £300m Securing our Technical Future program aimed at moving to new Crown Holdings data centres and the cloud. The Fujitsu contract was due to expire in June this year but has been extended to December 2023 due to the delays.
HMRC data centres: half of services moved or retired
HMRC has worked with Fujitsu facilities since 2004 and so far more than half of all services or applications have been moved to either cloud platforms or the new Crown Hosting centres, according to the report. These are colocation facilities launched by the Cabinet Office with vendor Ark Data Centres specifically to serve the public sector.
Last year 25 services migrated to cloud platforms, 29 services were no longer needed and so were retired and144 servers decommissioned. This brought the total services completed to 298, or 55% of the total listed in the project.
“Examination has uncovered that the remaining services, associated enablement and decommissioning work are more complex, expensive and time-consuming than previously thought,” the report warns, adding that this is why the status was changed to red.
“The programme is being carefully managed and monitored using internal and external governance processes whilst a new business case to outline detailed costs and plans for future years is submitted and agreed.”
Delays are blamed on a combination of issues including “a number of pauses” to the project caused by Brexit, but also a “particular focus on specific data centres has delayed a number of services from starting as originally planned” as well as a “change of approach for the platform migrations”. The report says: “The programme has undertaken a significant replanning exercise and will be seeking approval of new business case.”
NHS AI Lab progress and immigration reform stalling
Other projects given a red status as part of the report include a Home Office plan to modernise its immigration technology, as well as “optimise use of data”. The change to red was put down to struggles processing Ukrainian refugees.
The NHS AI Labs project also changed to red status. The lab was set up to capitalise on the ability of AI to make a significant difference in health and care settings by analysing large quantities of complex information.
This change in status was put down to a recent spending review that resulted in the AI Lab budget being reduced, leading to a re-prioritisation of its objectives.
“Due to the change in the AI Lab’s budget, a new business case will be required to re-baseline the objectives and outcomes of the programme,” the report says. “Once the new funding priorities have been established within a new business case, the delivery assessment of the programme should improve.”
Rob Anderson, research director for the public sector at GlobalData told Tech Monitor: “My gut feeling is that long-term central government projects such as legacy replacement and nice-to-do programmes exploring new tech have all suffered in recent years by successive distractions.
“Firstly was the austerity agenda that cut back the civil service, then preparation for Brexit, and after the last two years, it has been pivoting services to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
Anderson adds that he believes there is an opportunity “to put these things back in the spotlight”, but that the turmoil at the top of government, with the Conservatives choosing a new leader who will replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, left many projects in a state of flux. “It will need some strong political leadership around transformation and digitalisation, which sadly still appears to be lacking whilst the Conservative party remains inwardly focused,” he says.