Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 3 MARCH 1999
and MR PAUL
120. Could you let us have a note on that?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Yes.
121. Bearing in mind what you said that
at the end of the day it does not matter what system you develop,
it is only as good as the information that goes into it, I was
interested in one word I found in paragraph 3.4 where it says,
"Furthermore, while modifications are issued with a request
that their embodiment is recorded back...", and this seems
very polite for the armed services. I know I only had to do my
statutory two years in the RAF, but I do not remember getting
many polite requests to do things while I was there. I seem to
recollect you were told pretty clearly, "Get on with it and
make sure it's done".
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I am in no doubt that the
instruction is issued in the form of a directive. The fact is
though that of course there is, and I do not often use the word,
but there is a cultural issue here. There is more requesting,
but that does not mean you expect people not to do it. It is dead
clear that these people must comply and I believe, very genuinely,
their job has simply been too difficult in this respect. By the
time you have incorporated the modification, done your stuff to
scratch out the number and gone and found the paper and found
out who to send it to, we have just made that too difficult and
we have to make it simpler.
122. If you are saying in this context "request"
actually meant "expect", you must by now, on the basis
of the statistical evidence, be a very disillusioned man?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) Yes, if you measure me by
my 6,000-plus Bedford trucks. No, if you measure us by our state
of knowledge of the major modifications but particularly the major
capability enhancement for equipment, where we have improved that
in my experience out of all recognition. But I do agree until
these computer systems, simple, off-the-shelf, computer systems
are properly working and we have made them user-friendly, we are
still not going to reach the level of sophistication that the
commercial world has in this.
123. What progress has been made on the
level of compatibility and the ability to feed information across
to each other? Is that actually happening at the moment or is
it something which has been aspired to in the future and, if so,
how far in the future?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I am speaking for the new
Chief of Defence Logistics who takes up his formal appointment
on 1st April but of course is there working furiously now, and
I know he has put one of the very small number of "tiger
teams", as he calls them, on to this converging of information
124. Sorry, a small number of?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) "Tiger teams"real
experts he has put on to this problem. Because converging these
information systems for the reasons I have outlined is very much
one of the motivating factors behind forming the Defence Logistics
organisation at all.
125. But that is only just starting, only
just happening. He has not taken up the job yet. He is just put
a tiger team in to do it. Why was it not addressed before?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I think that question was
asked by many of my superiors and there was no satisfactory answer
other than, because they had separate budgetary responsibilities
and there was nobody going to pay them to come together, because
if you have separate stand-alone budgets who pays the money to
make somebody else adopt your procedures. There was no, in other
words, incentive for people to converge. Because there was no
good answer to that question, the incentive was provided by making
it into a single budget providing a Defence Logistics organisation,
something from where I sit in the Procurement Executive is hugely
important, otherwise I have to have three different interfaces
with my biggest partner, the Support Authorities, which is the
situation we fit into today.
126. One follows completely the logic of
what you have just said, how long before it was achieved did it
became apparent that its achievement was necessary?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) That is a very personal
question. My personal view would be three or four years but others
may take a different view. It was really at the moment we started
to understand that the lack of convergence of business processes
meant it did not matter what you said about the IT systems, they
could not be the same, and therefore it needed a single line management
put on top of a whole support regime to dictateand I use
that worda common business process. Once you get a common
business process, it is dead easy to have a common IT system.
127. So did the four services resist or
did they come voluntarily to some understanding of that requirement?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I pick my words quite carefully,
I think once they could see it was happening, they volunteered.
128. So we may have lost three or four years
because of a lack of volunteers?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I tried to make it absolutely
clear that three or four years was a personal realisation, not
a departmental one.
Mr Williams: I have
the greatest confidence in your judgment! Thank you very much.
129. Sir Robert, Mr Hatt, thank you both
very much for an interesting session and a very clear one. Everybody
has been impressed with the evidence. If I may make two requestsand
that is the wordof you as there were a couple of points
which I thought we could not ground for perfectly good reasons,
that the data was not necessarily at your fingertips. There was
some concern about the discovery and analysis, if I can put it
that way, of the Tornado rear fuselage fire and I am sure there
is a lot of data on that somewhere in the system, could you just
let us know how that was done, what international comparisons
you used, whether you talked to the Germans? A short paper on
that would be helpful.1
The second point which a number of people touched on, including
Mr Williams finally, was that high quality sophisticated data
bases in very fast computers without the information in them are
very good doorstops and paperweights but little else. When I asked
you at the beginning about the question of how sure you were that
you would not face again the problems we have had with Tornado
data bases, you said you were not 100 per cent certain, you thought
things would be better. I think it would be quite helpful to this
Committee if you could, maybe in discussion with the NAO, let
us have a note on the procedures which would be associated with
these new systems, whether or not the data base entry is in the
loop of authorisation, is in the loop for obtaining supplies and
so on, given repairs and up-dates, so we can be a little more
confident as to the fact these brand new pieces of machinery will
be brilliantly well-used. Can you do that for us?
(Sir Robert Walmsley) I can, Mr Chairman.2
Chairman: Thank you
very much indeed and thank you for your evidence.
7 Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, p. 19 (PAC
Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, p. 19 (PAC 98-99/136). Back
Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, p. 20 (PAC 98-99/136). Back