Delayed MOT computer system suffers crash

A £230m computerised MOT testing system ran into problems this week, leaving some UK garages struggling to cope

A multi-million pound IT system that computerised the UK's MOT testing programme suffered technical problems this week.The cause of the incident isn't yet known, but it left some garage owners virtually unable to work.

Siemens Business Services (SBS) built the system for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) at a total cost, over ten years, of £230m. The rollout, across all 18,500 UK authorised testing stations, was completed at the end of March this year.

The system links local garages directly to a central database, where information about vehicles, test results and authorised testers is stored. It is meant to combat the sale of fraudulent MOT certificates.

VOSA confirmed on Thursday that the computerised MOT system had been disrupted.

"A number of MOT garages have been experiencing difficulties with the MOT computer system during the past few days. The underlying problem is currently being resolved and full service will resume as soon as possible," said VOSA in a statement issued on Thursday morning.

A VOSA spokeswoman confirmed that some garages hadn't been able to use the Siemens-built system as normal, but wasn't able to reveal further details. She added that VOSA had introduced an emergency testing procedure, where car owners were issued with hand-written certificates.

Workers at one garage told ZDNet UK on Thursday afternoon that the problems had started on Tuesday, but that the system was now working as normal.

"This is the first time that the system has gone wrong in six months," said one employee. "We were hardly able to work at all."

Another garage worker said that when he complained to VOSA, he was advised to "send a letter to Siemens, it might help".

Siemens Business Services had not responded to requests for comment at the time of writing.

VOSA awarded the 10-year £230m private finance initiative contract to Siemens Business Services back in 2000, with the aim of rolling out the system to garages from May 2002. However, faults discovered during extensive testing led to repeated delays.

Alex Fiddes, director of the private vehicles sector at VOSA, told ZDNet UK's sister site earlier this month that: "This is not a simple IT system and we said we would not rush to meet artificially imposed milestones."