UK immigration systems delayed by extra Ukraine visa work

Government project watchdog signals red rating for case management system and warns about 'ageing' HMRC datacenter

Updated A UK Home Office plan to modernize its immigration technology to achieve "operational efficiencies" and "optimize use of data" received a red rating from the government's projects watchdog as it struggles to process Ukrainian refugees.

In its latest report, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, a joint unit under the country's Cabinet Office and the Treasury, said the Immigration Platform Technologies (IPT) Programme had moved from an amber to a red warning in the 2022 report.

"The program's delivery plan continues to be impacted by the additional work required across the wider Immigration Portfolio to support the changes needed in the [new] core Atlas system to grant Visas required to support the Ukrainian refugee scheme," the report said.

The IPT Programme began in 2013 and was expected to be completed in 2017, with a whole life cost budget of £209 million (c $252 million), according to Home Office documents.

A related procurement notice said the Programme included a core case working system used by Home Office staff that was set to replace five existing systems that collectively support several thousand concurrent users, and manage decision making on hundreds of thousands of Immigration and Visa cases per year.

However, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority said additional work from the Ukraine visa scheme had "been given priority and has therefore delayed roll-out of some IPT functionality."

"The challenges faced in delivering the Data and Management Information elements of the programme were also underestimated. This is now better understood and as a result the programme plan has been reviewed, giving an increased delivery confidence," the IPA said.

The Register has offered the Home Office the opportunity to respond.

The main suppliers on the project include 6 Point 6, Atos, Deloitte Digital, HP, IBM, Mastek, NETbuilder, PA Consulting and Transform.

"Supplier partners are accountable for the software delivery and ongoing maintenance of the services delivered by these projects through provision of Scrum Teams," the procurement notice said.

In 2019, a written parliamentary statement, from immigration minister Caroline Nokes said just eight of the 360 people working on the project were directly employed by the Home Office, the remainder coming from third parties.

Other projects given a red status by the IPA include Her Majesty’s Customs & Revenue's Securing Our Technical Future Programme. The plan is to “stabilize” HMRC's current IT estate, which is “aged”, and to exit from three Fujitsu datacenters. The plan was to exit the datacenters before the contracts expire in 2022, but a “new contract has been put in place to ensure HMRC Services can continue to be supported until Dec 2023,” the report said. In the meantime, the project is “readying the estate for a move to the new destination platforms, cloud and Crown Hosting.”

The IPA said it increased the assessment from amber to red because the team “continues to undertake the infrastructure enablement and migration activity needed” to exit the datacenters.

In January 2022, IBM picked up an £11 million ($13 million) contract to help with the project. ®

Updated to add on July 26:

An HMRC spokesperson said: "Moving services to public cloud and Crown Hosting is helping us transform how we operate, enabling us to build and run more resilient services, update them easily where we need to, and scale up quickly at peak times of the year.

"We always plan any changes to our IT estate thoroughly and, although this is a highly complex project, we are confident in the migration plans we now have in place.

"In view of this progress made, the RAG rating has now improved from Red to Amber, which was confirmed by an IPA Gate 0 review conducted in early May 2022."

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