Following the news on Friday that around 80,000 desktop machines may have crashed in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) following a routine upgrade, ZDNet UK spoke with the Liberal Democrat IT spokesperson Richard Allan MP about the dangers of outsourcing and over-reliance on technology.
What are your initial thoughts on what went wrong with the DWP desktops?
What I have heard is that they were upgrading Windows 2000 to Windows XP. Initially I thought it must have been XP to a service pack because that is the problem in a lot of places.
To be able to make this kind of mistake with desktops is actually quite tough. The problem was across multiple sites. The fact that they [Microsoft] had to fly people in is an extraordinary state of affairs to get into. It's amazing that anyone could manage to cock it up so successfully.
But how could a relatively straightforward desktop upgrade cause so many problems?
There are some serious architecture problems there. Obviously they had no imaging system or anything like that; even in my office I have a small office network and it has the facility to take a PC image and bring them back to that (working) state if anything goes wrong.
It also throws a question mark over some of these massive outsourcing deals that we have got going on with DEFRA, we have got one going on with MoD. The logic of these deals is that you have one external supplier who manages all your desktops which is sold as low risk: 'they are only managing the desktop, it is just a bit of Windows and Office'. But what you can see is that you no longer have the internal staff to manage these things.
So you think the problem lies with the fact that the DWP has chosen to outsource its desktop management to EDS and Microsoft?
It is interesting it is EDS again. Their record recently has not been good. I can understand problems with server upgrades but killing desktops is gross incompetence. This worries me far more than anything else they have done.
It comes back to the nature of these contracts -– EDS are sitting there at some kind of central control centre and the idea is that its much more efficient to that they have trimmed it all down to have someone sit their and do everything remotely. They have pressed a button to try and update a few machines but have made a mistake a sent out this patch to sixty thousand out of eighty thousand -– they have all received the patch, the patch has killed the machines and there has been no easy way back to revive them.