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

Police National Computer, customs rig and more fingered in PAC 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 State Pension were examples of an archaic legacy estate.

"Many of these systems are stable and performing acceptably at reasonable cost, but others are high risk, unreliable, contain security vulnerabilities, or frustrate business transformation," a report published late last week said.

In September, public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office revealed that a 34-year-old ICL mainframe system was one of the causes of a scandal which led to more than £1bn of state pensions not being paid.

In November last year, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs said it had not set a date to end use of a vital 26-year-old customs system, even though plans to migrate began seven years earlier.

The PAC was told that plans to migrate from the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) had been kept in place to ensure smooth Brexit transition.

Meanwhile, the Home Office's programme to replace the Police National Computer was delayed by at least five years with an associated cost overrun of more than £400m, said the PAC report entitled 'Challenges in implementing digital change' .

To make matters worse central government departments "have a limited understanding of their legacy estate and the centre of government does not have an ongoing process for assessing and understanding what cross-government legacy risk looks like," the report said.

The admission came from a September hearing, when Joanna Davinson, exec director at the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO), told MPs the government lacks a central, dynamic list of its legacy computing estate and the risks associated with ageing IT infrastructure and applications.

She said the Cabinet Office, which encompasses CDDO, was working on such a system, aimed at helping prioritise spending, which it planned to launch in January 2022. "I acknowledge that it's not as systematic as it should be at the moment, but we've got an initiative in place," the former IBM executive told MPs.

A report by the Modernisation and Reform group published in July indicates £2.3bn of the £4.7bn UK government spent on technology in 2019 was dedicated to "keeping the lights on" activity on "outdated legacy systems."

Further, the report projected that £13bn to £22bn could be wasted in the same way over the next half a decade.

The PAC said that from the beginning of next year the CDDO should work with departments to map legacy systems across government to document what is there, why it exists and how critical it is.

"By the end of 2022, the CDDO should use this to produce a pipeline of legacy systems they have prioritised with milestones for action. This pipeline should be shared with the Committee," it said. ®

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