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Post Office spunks a fresh £36 million on Fujitsu Horizon after cloud migration fails

When your digital transformation failure is associated with "total corporate psychopathy, a mad Kafka-esque nightmare"

The Post Office is spending a fresh £36 million with Fujitsu – after plans to get off its controversial Horizon software, out of its ageing data centres and onto AWS “created fundamental technical challenges that [it] could not economically and technically overcome” despite Accenture’s help.

The extension takes its spending with Fujitsu to over £2.3 billion and locks it in until April 2025 to the company’s legacy Horizon software platform – despite taxpayers' money having been provided to help with the move. 

(The contract extension notice uses boilerplate language almost identical to a similar one-year extention from 2023 to 2024...)

The Fujitsu software in question was a central character in one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history – scores of Post Office operators were wrongly prosecuted after the flawed, buggy system flagged false accounting shortfalls, leading to what one commentator, Marina Hyde, has described as “total corporate psychopathy, a mad Kafka-esque nightmare in which totally innocent subpostmasters, the very backbone of villages and communities, were turned into criminals to cover up the fact that [its] Horizon computer system didn’t work properly.”

The Post Office is now aiming to exit Fujitsu infrastructure by March 31,  2025 – having activated a one-year extension to a contract it has several times tried to get out of, and several times extended after failing to do so.

It said this week that Horizon “is a highly complex platform, written in legacy versions of software languages and which incorporates five "systems" in one i.e. financial services, banking, government services, mails and retail… the inflexible nature of the construction of the architecture of "Horizon" itself makes technology change challenging.

The new CapEx sum is for “an appropriate refresh and improvement program” it said in a contract notice on November 21 after it took “the decision to pivot back to the Fujitsu provided Horizon Data Centres until the successful transfer of services out of Horizon and into its replacement NBIT ("New Branch IT"). As a result of this retention of Data Centre capabilities it is necessary to carry out Data Centre Fortification works to provide stability, avoid obsolescence and ensure business continuity.”

(Quite what kind of “refresh” of legacy data centres and software that an organisation is hoping to exit in 16 months £36 million buys you with Fujitsu these days is an open question, but The Stack will ask it of the Post Office and Fujitsu and update this story if we get a meaningful response.) 

The contract extension spans “continuing provision of Data Centre Operations and Central Network Service… under an existing Software and IT Services agreement relating to Point of Sale ("POS") customer facing transactions across multiple channels” the Post Office said this week. 

Post Office CEO Nick Read in April 2022 had welcomed government funding of £185 million for investment "which we will principally draw on to transform our branch IT" and said that "by the end of the financial year, we intend to complete the migration from our Belfast data centres to cloud based technology" – an aspiration that the organisation does not appear to have been able to meet.

(The Post Office in early 2022 had sketched out plans to migrate to AWS and roll out a new IT system incrementally across its 11,600+ branches. In July 2022 it awarded Accenture a £27 million contract for "provision of resources to support the delivery of application development/delivery work for Post Office's Strategic Platform Modernisation Programme (SPMP)" and separately contracted the consultancy for UX work on the system.)

Using anybody else but Fujitsu at this time would “result in disproportionate technical difficulties in implementation as well as operation and maintenance at this time. Awarding the services to a different contractor would also cause significant inconvenience in terms of service delivery, reliability and continuity of service including because of incomplete transfer of know-how” the contract notice said.

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