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IBM veep partly blamed Sopra Steria for collapse of £155m Co-Op Insurance Agile project

Plus insurer kept firing defect reports at us during acceptance testing, said Steve Allen

Co-Op Insurance's £155m Agile contract with IBM for a new IT platform collapsed not only because the insurer kept raising spurious defects but also because Sopra Steria bungled a critical data migration, the Big Blue veep overseeing the project told London's High Court.

In court papers obtained by The Register, IBM vice president Steve Allen said the Co-Op's insurance arm helped cause its own Project Cobalt to collapse after sending a large volume of change requests to IBM and subcontractor 1insurer.

Co-Op Insurance is suing IBM as a result of the project collapsing, alleging IBM deliberately let it fall apart. IBM says the Co-Op failed to pay on time and that it was contractually allowed to walk away as a result. The trial has ended but judgment has not yet been handed down.

Insurance software outsourcer 1insurer, which during the 2016-17 project was known as the Innovation Group, was brought in by IBM to convert its white-label insurance platform for UK use by the Co-Op. The Co-Op says 1insurer's product was built for the US market and wasn't at all suitable for use in the UK, contrary to IBM's claims that it just needed a little light tweaking. IBM hotly denies that it was unsuitable.

In his written witness statement, Allen told the High Court: "The number of defects found during UAT [user acceptance testing] execution in 2017 was higher than anticipated which contributed to the delay to UAT completion. While defects were attributable to IBM and / or IG [Innovation Group], there was also a high number of rejected defects (defects raised in error) and a proportion of the defects raised were attributable to CISGIL [Co-Op Insurance] or its subcontractors."

Allen said that instead of defect fixes following the usual S-curve distribution – a high number during initial testing that flattens out, followed by a small tail at the end – the Co-Op project's defect list instead grew at a "linear" rate over time.

"Over the course of UAT around 23 per cent – 27 per cent of defects were rejected," Allen continued, saying that rejected defects were ones that IBM said were "incorrectly raised" because the "system is in fact performing as expected". He said: "Rejected defects needed to be triaged, diverting Subject Matter Experts ('SME') and developer resources away from fixing real defects, contributing to the delay."

Data, data everywhere, not any byte to drink

On top of the allegations that the Co-Op caused its own Agile project's downfall, Allen told the court: "There were delays caused by CISGIL's [Co-Op Insurance] sub-contractor Steria in relation to data migration."

Sopra Steria managed the entire Co-Op's data warehousing at the time. With one of the main drivers behind Project Cobalt being to sever Co-Op Insurance from the rest of the retail and banking group, Steria's involvement would have been very important. Allen quoted from an email sent by IBMer Paul Osborne to senior Co-Op man Richard White which read: "We have a hard dependency on Sopra Steria which, if not resolved, will lead to delays."

IBM alleges that such delays did come to pass.

Those delays were not only Co-Op contractors' fault, in Allen's estimation, and he told the court that in IBM's view, the insurance company itself contributed heavily to them by not wanting to talk about which defects "could be deferred until Release 2," the second scheduled software drop of the new platform. "Refusing to countenance any defects at all at Go Live is not normal, and I do not recall another client ever having taken that approach before," he said.

Further, the IBM VP also said that the Co-Op had introduced a new requirement at a late stage for data within the new platform to be encrypted in transit, something he described as "a significant change in approach that seemed excessive and would have required significant changes to be made."

Although the trial has ended, The Register will continue reporting from case papers, and the judgment itself once trial judge Mrs Justice O'Farrell hands it down. ®

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