The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is charged with working to represent and protect UK interests abroad. It has a headcount of some 16,000 staff, based in the UK and abroad, and has an extensive overseas network of over 200 diplomatic offices.

The department had a mixed 2005 in terms of successes – or not – with ICT. On the credit side it extended its relationship with Microsoft, last June signing a new £6 million contract to update and support its Windows-based applications. This complements a major seven-year, £180m outsourcing contract signed in February 2005 with HP, which sets out to both provide new hardware, software and services for all FCO sites. There is also a plan to create a single, common network platform by the end of 2007. Interestingly, the deal features a joint management approach between user and supplier: the IT infrastructure was designed by an inhouse team called FCO Services, which will collaborate with HP on delivery of key project items.

One the debit side is yet another government IT project failure – Prism. This is to replace 30 different IT systems with a new information management system, which is “substantially behind time” and causing “great dissatisfaction” in British embassies and consulates around the world, according to a very critical Parliamentary assessment this March. Government assessment of what went wrong cites the lack of a senior responsible owner at board level, a shortage of specialist skills, and resistance to change. It is still unclear when Prism will be fixed.