UK government tool to monitor its legacy application estate is… LATE

Hardly a surprise from the team that brought you billion-pound delays to the Emergency Services Network


A system designed to keep track of the UK government's ageing application portfolio promised by Joanna Davinson, who was once responsible for overseeing £1bn additional costs on the much-delayed Emergency Services Network, has — you guessed it — been delayed.

Speaking to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last September, the former IBM executive who now heads up the government's Central Digital and Data Office admitted the government currently lacks a central, dynamic list of its legacy computing estate and the risks associated with ageing IT infrastructure and applications.

"What we do not yet have as clearly as I would like is an ongoing process for assessing and understanding what our cross-Government legacy risk looks like, in what direction it is going and where we need to intervene," she told MPs last year.

However, she said a "four-box model" was being piloted in three central government departments as of last year, and a tool would be ready to roll out from the beginning of January this year.

"The intent is that we pilot through the rest of this year. My intent is that we have a tool we can start working with — and we will refine it as we go — from the start of next year," she said in September 2021.

In a statement to The Register, a spokesman for the Cabinet Office, which oversees the CDDO, was unable to confirm such a tool had gone live.

"We are committed to tackling legacy technology across government. Last year, the CDDO formed a working group across a number of departments which is building a common framework to identify and assess legacy systems. This important work is ongoing and is a key focus for the CDDO," he said.

Organising for Digital Delivery, an independent report published last summer by the Digital Economy Council, found that a half of the £4.7bn spent on IT in 2019 was used for “keeping the lights on” activity on “outdated systems”. Further, the process of maintaining legacy tech was forecast to cost taxpayers between £13bn to £22bn over the next five years.

In December, the PAC reported that the 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. Systems 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," the report published said.

Davinson is no stranger to dealing with the PAC. Speaking to the public spending watchdog as chief digital, data and technology officer at the Home Office in September 2020, she admitted that two years' delays to the ESN, designed to support emergency calls from fire crews, the ambulance service and police, would cost £550m per year.

The 4G-based system was originally planned to be up and running by 2017 but by 2019 was delayed by five years.

A "mindset reset" in 2018 meant the scheme to upgrade Britain's blue-light comms network might not be fully available before the end of 2024.

Davinson was subsequently promoted in 2021 to head up the newly created CDDO, designed to be the new strategic centre for government activity in "digital, data and technology", including tackling coronavirus and rebuilding our economy, according to a statement.

She now heads up the government's 18,000-strong digital, data and technology professions and leads the function for government. ®


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