Northern Ireland

AMT Sybex: Future of agriculture software contract in doubt

Farmer using iPad Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption £10.9m has been spent on the system since April 2016

A senior government official has raised doubts about the future of a software contract on which millions of pounds of taxpayers money has already been spent.

It is for a new system to trace animal movements and disease, which is relied on heavily by the agriculture industry.

A Stormont committee was told significant issues had delayed the continued roll-out of the new system and the contract was being reviewed.

The company involved - AMT Sybex - said it was working to resolve the issues.

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) official Brian Doherty said the existing traceability system, which the new one was meant to replace, remained "fit for purpose".

He said £10.9m had been spent by the department on the new system since April 2016.

But he told the Northern Ireland Assembly's Agriculture Committee the software received from the company responsible had not been up to the "quality standard".

As a result there was ongoing contact between the company and the department about a "rectification plan".

Image caption Brian Doherty said discussion were ongoing about a "rectification plan"

Mr Doherty was asked by committee chairman Declan McAleer whether he was confident the obstacles could be overcome and the system implemented.

The civil servant replied: "I would like to defer that question solely because there are commercial sensibilities in that we're looking at the rectification plan and that will result in a decision from the department."

An £8.7m contract for the Northern Ireland Food Animal Information System (NIFAIS) was awarded to AMT-Sybex in 2016 for a nine-year term.

The then Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen described it as a "significant investment in the infrastructure of the local agri-food industry".

The first stage of it was implemented in June 2017.

It was meant to replace the existing system Animal Plant Health Information System (APHIS), which has been in use here since 1998.

APHIS has been held up as a world-leading traceability system which facilitates trade and gives guarantees on food safety and animal health.

Mr Doherty said that parts of APHIS were "clunky" and it needed replaced.

He said it was "disappointing" and "unfortunate" that the new system was not fully in place.

Speaking after the committee meeting, the chairman Mr McAleer said he was shocked to hear the new software had a "high level of defects".

"Given the huge implications of traceability for trade and as we look towards international markets it is vital that we have a fit for purpose food and animal information system," he added.

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