The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is facing a "nightmare" updating its old IT infrastructure to bring it in line with other government departments before 2000.
A spokesperson for the FCO admitted: "The whole project will be a big challenge because of the timescale and because of our global spread. There aren't too many organisations that have more than 220 worldwide missions and 8,500 users."
In the UK, there are 80 departments with approximately 3,000 users.
The FCO is getting rid of dumb terminals and Unix systems which have been in use for nearly nine years in favour of an NT installation with Compaq PCs and servers, HP printers and 3Com network components. Digital will provide servicing and the FCO will standardise Microsoft's Office 97 suite.
The work is costing #45 million and will be undertaken by Computacenter, which beat bids from ICL and Unisys. The company is assigning a dedicated team of 100 people to carry out the work, which is expected to be completed by the end of next year.
Computacenter's regional sales manager for the public sector, Colin Brown, said: "Although we have the capacity and resources, the biggest challenge we face will be scheduling, in terms of the number of locations and the fact that the FCO has very tight and restrictive timetables. It's also very sensitive about security."
Although training on Windows is underway, the FCO spokesman added: "When the systems are put in place, more thorough training will be undertaken which will be provided by Computacenter."
He added: "Historically, because of maintenance problems abroad, it was difficult to standardise IBM RS6000 and ICL and AT&T across the world, together with other PCs and all sorts. We've had certain core systems and now we're looking to implement the same systems globally."
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