Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. But part of the pattern would be assessing the risk at that stage.
  (Mr Gaskell) Yes, it would.

  21. Do they assess risk at different levels?
  (Mr Gaskell) Yes, they do.

  22. How many gateway reviews did this project go through?
  (Mr Gaskell) This project has had three gateway reviews.

  23. What levels of risk came out?
  (Mr Gaskell) If I can just deal with the last one which was done earlier this year, they recognised and confirmed our own assessment that this was a high-risk programme, that it was still achievable but that it would require a considerable degree of effort on both sides in order to try and make that happen. They also recommended that we should delay the decision until the latest possible moment to give EDS a fighting chance to try and bring the system on line.

  24. You said there were three gateway reviews; did the two earlier reviews have high-risk ratings as well?
  (Mr Gaskell) Yes. From the outset of this programme that has been the case.

  25. So you have been sitting on what, by the gateway process, has been assessed as a high-risk project all the way along?
  (Mr Gaskell) Yes. Can I just add to that, because one of the things they do is look at the approaches that were taken to managing those risks and, in particular, the contingency measures we put in. On each occasion they have confirmed that the steps we have identified to manage those risks have been the right and appropriate ones.

Rob Marris

  26. So when did you consult the external IT consultants? At the beginning or right at the end?
  (Mr Gaskell) We have had a degree of IT expertise within the Department throughout the programme. The particular expertise I referred to earlier we specifically asked for to look at the pattern of defects. So this was new expertise we were bringing in. We have had a new chief information officer appointed and one of his first jobs was to bring in some of that expertise and to help the Department with the modernisation programme as a whole. It is part of that resource that has been ear-marked to help us, with EDS, to understand the pattern of defects and the pattern of testing and what conclusions can be drawn from it.

  27. Were those external consultants involved in all or any of those three gateway reviews?
  (Mr Gaskell) No, no, these are people that have been brought in in the last two to three months to help us make that assessment of the IT. I should add, for completeness, I have mentioned three gateway reviews. However, because there was not a clearly established pattern of gateway reviews, based on previous recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee we have also had a series of external and independent reviews to the programme before the gateway reviews were set up properly. We stopped those when the gateway process kicked in properly. That is when we had the two further gateway reviews that I referred to—one late last year and one early this year.


  28. What happens now?
  (Mr Gaskell) What happens now is that we need a clear and agreed re-plan from EDS to confirm how much time they believe they need to complete testing. We then need to assess, jointly with them (which we are doing) how achievable that plan is, how much time that will involve, how much time we will need and the approach we will need to complete the user-acceptance testing.

  29. Do you know with any kind of certainty how long it will take for completion of testing and roll-out commencing?
  (Mr Gaskell) I think that would be a judgment that Ministers would have to make, based on advice. There are a number of options. One is that you could have a significant period of elapsed time between the IT being ready and cleared user-acceptance testing, or there could be a protracted roll-out period before we go on to the new scheme or you can go for a shorter period. It depends on what the quality of the IT is at that particular point.

  30. But it would be months not weeks?
  (Mr Gaskell) The gap between IT go-live and A-day itself, if the quality of the IT is good, can be very short. Indeed, there have been many projects in both the public and private sector where there has been coincidence of the go-live and main implementation.

  31. Within weeks?
  (Mr Gaskell) There have been some where it has been absolutely coincident. I would not recommend it.
  (Mr Smith) It is worth dwelling on the tasks that we need to undertake once we have the IT system. We would then wish to do a proper user-assurance test to make sure that the product that EDS say they are delivering, delivers—and we have got a lot of people working closely with them—but we need, from our perspective, to make sure that it is up-to-spec. So we need some user-acceptance testing. We also want to understand how the IT system properly supports our business processes. It is all very well writing this down on a piece of paper and drawing models and pictures and having understanding of it, it is actually when you start using it and saying "Here is a maintenance application, here is how we work through the process using the maintenance application"—in a real environment rather than a testing environment - that you start learning the real lessons of how it will work in practice. Then we need to ensure that our training packages for staff reflect the way that the IT system will work in practice to support our business process rather than how it will work in theory. So there is a degree of effort and work that needs to go on.

  32. There is a step between the completion of testing and the roll-out, which you have just described. How long will that process take?
  (Mr Smith) As has been stated, it is entirely a product of what the quality of the IT system is that is delivered. High quality can mean a relatively short period. If there are still issues within it then it may be a longer period. We are not going to be in a position to have a judgment on that until we are far closer to having the IT system in our hands.

Rob Marris

  33. I just wanted to go back to something I think Mr Gaskell said, that EDS had not given you an indication of when they anticipate finishing testing.
  (Mr Gaskell) Yes, they need to give us that.

  34. They have not yet?
  (Mr Gaskell) They have given us an indication when that is and we need to work around that, first of all, to confirm with them that that is the assumption of risk associated with that to see whether those are ones that are acceptable and achievable.

  35. So in the two months since the Minister's statement came out on 20 March you have not got it sorted as to whether EDS's anticipated date is something you think is credible?
  (Mr Smith) We do not currently have a date that we believe we can say this is when we expect testing to be finished because there are a significant number of issues still in testing that need to be resolved now. However, until we see whether EDS are actually proceeding in accordance with the plan and whether things are moving on that elapsed time, it is going to be impossible to say "Yes, by this date we are going to draw a line and say the system test is finished" and we move on.

  36. It seems EDS have not yet given you a date so that you can then assess whether you think that date is realistic.
  (Mr Smith) Not a date on which I am confident.


  37. The impression I got clearly when the Secretary of State came to the House two months ago was that there were some details to be tidied up. I may be wrong, but I left thinking that we are now 95 per cent of the way there and it is sensible not to take the risk; and even if it was a 95 per cent risk, in these circumstances I think that decision was right and, as I have said, I do not think the Committee would take any different view about that—in terms of the appropriateness of the decision. Listening to you—although it has been very helpful and I do understand that you are being as helpful as you can and it is useful to get all this background—the project is receding over the horizon as the session progresses. If you had asked me—and I am not a betting man—I would have said there was a fighting chance of getting this up and running by April 2003, and that would have been bad news for the system but that would have been possible. Listening to this, however, I think 2003 is optimistic. The worry about that is that Ministers (because Ministers are Ministers and they have got a political timetable which pays no attention to IT schedules or testing or anything else) will want this put in place and to be demonstrated to be working and demonstrating benefits before the year 2005. I am beginning to get very nervous now that we are going to get to 2005 and you might not have the benefit of this system up and running. Is there any chance of getting this in place by April 2003?
  (Mr Smith) I do not want to get drawn into speculating on when we are going to go live. Indeed, Ministers would not wish me to do that because Alastair Darling has made it quite clear that he wishes to make a statement to the House when he is satisfied that testing has progressed sufficient to permit him to form a firm conclusion on when implementation will be. However, I will say that if our comments have induced that degree of pessimism, we have not intended to induce that degree of pessimism. I think the sort of dates you are suggesting are a little on the pessimistic side.

Rob Marris

  38. When do you think you will get from EDS their anticipated "we will have finished testing" date, which you can then assess as to its realism or not?
  (Mr Smith) I think, in a sense, we have an on-going series of discussions with EDS on what their anticipated testing completion dates might be. When I will feel confident in their anticipated end-date is when a number of the issues that they are currently grappling with are showing clear signs of resolution. We are at the stage, at the moment, where we are confident that they know how they will crack these issues. Vince has indicated that the technical experts, who have not touched the system before, have reviewed those and confirmed that degree of confidence. I am, by nature (going back to previous comments) something of a pessimist. When I can see this happening and can see concrete progress on these, as opposed to planned progress, then I will start to re-think end-dates. I hope within the next month or two we will start to move to a date where we can say to the Secretary of State "Look, we are becoming increasingly firm about the end-date of the system testing. You may now be able to go to the House and make a further statement."

  39. That answer suggests to me that, in fact, EDS has already given you one or more anticipated completion of testing dates and that you have said to EDS "We do not think those dates are realistic." Hence your reference to "on-going discussions".
  (Mr Smith) Going back a little while, EDS were telling us not too long ago that they anticipated the testing date was in advance of the April go-live date. We are entitled at this stage to regard the conversation with EDS as being no more than conversation, and these dates are discussion items rather than a firm plan item.

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