back to article The Great Border Agency IT Crash: Just who was responsible?

IT biz Atos caused last month's disastrous Border Agency computer meltdown that caused chaos for foreigners resident in the UK, according to the agency's chief. And well-placed sources have told The Register they expect similar problems in future. Atos's service has been described by insiders with knowledge of the matter as " …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    "... left immigration workers' IT a dog's dinner of various ...". Isn't that supposed to read "dog's breakfast"???

    OT, but most dogs would turn down a mess like this...

    1. LarsG


      Great Government IT success!

  2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  3. Caff

    No experience of q-matic but having had exposure to an MQ system linking legacy and new systems I would imagine that a messaging queue system linking products not only from different vendors but managed by different teams form different vendors would be an utter mess. I would be amazed if each vendor wasn't opperating different contracts with different priortites leading to an unholy game of pass the parcel.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Q-MATIC is quite unlike MQ systems. Q-MATIC is an high-end appointment scheduling system for customer flow control and tracking and reporting. (Your Broadway office was taking an average of 16.5 minutes to service their customers between 3PM and 4PM.)

  4. IT Hack

    I trust the UKBA activated penalty clauses if the incident breached agreed SLA's.

    Given no comment was made on SLA penalties I would say no.

    Pint in praise of the drones who probably got whipped half to death to solve the problem...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      But the Penalty Clause Claim System is also run by ATOS; they'd end-up paying themselves compensation and charging the tax payer an administration fee for it ;-)

  5. Bob H


    The iris system was great, I am sad that it wasn't more widely implemented, sure it occasionally took too long and rejected, but being that no one else uses it, it acts like a fast lane in immigration!

  6. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Is that the sound of lawyers rumbling

    Hope El Reg has balls of steel. ATOS are famously litigious and will fire off a injunction at the drop of a hat. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if they try and strike the minutes of the committee, and threaten anyone for reporting it.

  7. Melanie Winiger

    Almost restored my faith in democracy!


    Q153 Chair: What is the company?

    Rob Whiteman: I would rather not say.

    Q154 Chair: I am sorry, Mr Whiteman; this is a Select Committee of the House-

    Rob Whiteman: It is Atos


  8. Stevie Silver badge


    We've had multi-phase commit of transactional distributed DB tech so long it is even part of free open source DB products and is proven reliable technology. We've had batch-and-transmit systems around longer than we've had transistors.

    What in Seymour Cray's name are these morons doing?

    Of course, as I am older than 50 I couldn't possibly understand the problems of a post Unix world since all the old logics were boiled off and replaced with new ones with fancy new names.

  9. Jaymax

    Same old same old

    "Have we got compensation from the IT company?" morphs into acceptance for just the company being named...

    Atos became Accentures partner in crime at the Rural Payments Agency (the partnership being useless non-oversight that allowed both companies to keep supping at the fountain of taxmoney, while delivering shit with just enough solid bits in it to reassure with words like 'contingency' and "immediate full team mobilisation" to appease the idiots who gave them the keys to the garden of government contracting in the first place.

    The question needs to get back to "Have we got compensation from the IT company?"; followed by "why not" and "how to you expect to keep you senior civil service position unless you can demonstrate exactly why you haven't sued them already.

    1. John McCallum

      Re: Same old same old

      Probibly because comp is not a factor until several days or perhaps weeks of down time have lapsed.In other words the civil servants have had rings run round them again.

  10. micheal

    When they won the contract

    They tried get me to leave low paying SERCO to start at Lunar House as I had current DV clearance

    and offered me less money but expected me to travel an hour at my own expense each day

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When they won the contract

      You wouldn't have needed that clearance for what they do at Lunar House so I claim bullshit and where's my five pounds?

      Besides that clearance is non-transferable and the very fact you mention it on a public forum shows you're an idiot who shouldn't really have it. Sorry mate, but you know I'm right.

      1. Scott 62

        Re: When they won the contract

        if the clearances aren't transferable surely sites like this wouldn't exist...


        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: When they won the contract

          There are various levels of security clearance, some of which it is not appropriate to disclose publicly.

          'SC' stands for 'Security Check'. No-one is worried about disclosing that level of clearance.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not just the big systems...

    ...that are a problem at UKBA. Basic fundamental systems (desktop operating systems, email, MS Office apps) have been continuously locking, crashing and in some instances not loading at all. Massive slowdown of the basic IT infrastructure has become a problem in the past 6 months or so, certainly since the network went through a massive upgrade towards the end of last year, when they merged together two of the network platforms.

    Posting anon, cos I'm at work now....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not just the big systems...

      The UKBA people can't win. Civil servants don't run data centers - they go out to the private sector and are dependent on their bad contingency planning if that's what was given. UKBA didn't choose Atos here.

      The idea that large distributed systems like these are as straightforward to develop and deliver as a little web app shows some ignorance of just how much integration is needed - they are usually hairy brain-fucks to get working together.

      And to address your point, AC at UKBA, the desktop and email system you're complaining about (not without justification I agree) is part of a wider strategic integration, run by a completely different large services provider whose name we can't mention.

      Having no money to do anything isn't helping in public sector land right now ...

  12. Neil Spellings


    Guess who's handling all the IT integration services for the Oympics....

  13. Antidisestablishmentarianist

    Sweet baby Jesus

    "The firm has also just been awarded a £140 million deal for IT provision at the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority."

    Icon says it all

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Sweet baby Jesus

      No it's actually a brilliant strategy.

      Safest thing to do is to leave the stuff in place until it has decayed. The longer you delay doing anything, the safer it is. Throw in an IT system that takes a few 1000year to process any order to touch the stuff and job done.

  14. Bluenose

    And of course with new Govt procurement rules.....

    these incidents are likely to happen more frequently in the future since more and more government depts are being told not to sign big contracts with single suppliers. Instead they are to break them down in to Service Towers and put each one out to competitive tender.

    What is the odds of ATOS getting even more roles as the Systems Integrator and finding that they can't work out how things link together and that the other companies don't want to share information (because they lose competitive advantage when the competitor knows how you do things).

    Big deals are often portrayed as expensive and block SMEs from the market but the one thing they do really well is put one neck on the block. Odds are that ATOS has already identified who they think caused the problems and it won't be them.

  15. Qdos

    What does ATOS stand for?

    Could it be A TOSser who is the architect?

    And aren't they, erhm... French... ***whistles***

    Same outfit who have declared thousands of disabled benefit claimants fit for work?

    Nuff' said :/

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I refer to Dominic's earlier article.

    Consultancies are make more money by expanding the job, to the point that the don't quite lose the contract, until they've taken all the money the company has, than they do by ever solving the problem.

    Half a dozen lads I know, with me running the shop could fix any of these programmes in under six months, but MPs don't get their meetings in the Maldives out of that.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Curious about the numbers.

    I'm curious about the figures quoted for these government IT projects or any G-project for that matter.

    How do these figures quoted for gov' contracts compare to normal Business and Corporate costs. Is it a case of adding a few extra zeroes or am I missing something here?

    I've heard these types of whispered stories from other service contractors and often wondered... Myth or just twaddle?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When will history turn full circle?

    With IT systems, especially important ones, being brought back in house: planning, development, support, maintenance, hardware and all?

    Of course that will have its own set of problems and imperfections: what doesn't? But at least it won't be lining some other company's pockets

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When will history turn full circle?

      When hell freezes over, most likely. Government only listen to lobbyists these days, and you can be sure the big lard arse IT/BPO firms' lobbyists will work very hard to make sure the trough stays firmly where it is.

      Add to that, that once you've outsourced scale and capability, it is very, very difficult to get it back.

  19. JaitcH

    "Not fit for purpose"?

    Starts at the top with the minister ... May.

  20. Denarius Silver badge

    but you poms exported this multi-sourcing "advice" to Oz

    Sounds so familiar. Single suppliers at least kept the parse (sic) the parcel down (can you understand PHB ITIL babble ?) Decent management (ok its rare) could get fixes underway quickly. But no, the local slobbering colonial idiots had to get another scheme imported to break what were very functional systems. Wont need a Carrington Event to bring down the ruins of western technology, the pollies and managers will do it.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's way more complex integrating all the legacy crap and networks from multiple suppliers - who can't retain the talent and knowledge needed to support these systems, than any of you would like to admit.

    Yes - building something on a modern stack from the ground up would be an easy and sensible thing to do on a "greenfeild" site, but if any of you have ever worked for the public sector you would realise that this is almost impossible to achieve on any kind of reasonable time-frame when the client can't even tell you what they want without changing their mind every 5 mins.

    It doesn't help either when you have people typically only working in a role at suppliers for between 12 and 24 months, which is way shorter than any kind of major government IT project.

    I'm not saying companies like Atos, Logica, EDS/HP, IBM, CapGemini etc. are great at what they do, but its not a perfect world, and the people who work for the government departments in this equation are by and large even more useless than the staff at the suppliers they use (after all, its mainly length of service rather than talent, knowledge or skill that leads to progression within the public sector departments.)

    Its a game I am looking forward to getting out of.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So its all the clients fault is it?

      'when the client can't even tell you what they want without changing their mind every 5 mins'.

      The client knows jack. If you cant advise them properly and guide them into doing something they want or at least something that comes close and can easily be modified to the required solution then your either a charlatan or a thief.

      The attitude seems to be 'the client know jack' so we'll just suck them dry, passing all blame on to them. If they get close to a solution then we will offer a fantastic paradigm shift to ensure they don’t get there. If that fails we will offer them a post. But under no circumstances will we allow the work to be completed successfully or left in state that another supplier can complete it.

      Government IT suppliers have completely re-defined 'Jobsworth' at a corporate level.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Government IT suppliers haven't redefined 'Jobsworth' at a corporate level. Governmenment has defined what a corporate 'Jobsworth' needs to do to be seen to be getting the job done. ITIL itself, which is the start of all the problems is in fact, a government led initiative that prevents anything getting done in a cost effficient and timely manner.

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