Supercomputers and the Weather – “Manifest Errors” in Tender Process?

I seem to get rained on a lot. Even when I least expect it. Even when I have checked the BBC Weather, and looked at the satellite image, or the Met Office app which always says something slightly different. But you get a window where the apps tell you it won’t rain for 2 hours at least and you go out and within 10 minutes you are soaked.

It’s possible that I am statistically illiterate. That a 5% chance of rain still means it could rain although I take it to mean it’s so highly unlikely that it won’t actually happen. But my sense is that although forecasting has improved we still have a long way to go.

As it happens, the Met Office and the UK government bought a supercomputer last year (2021). This new supercomputer is expected to be the most advanced supercomputer in the world which is dedicated to weather prediction and climate change. Microsoft won the tender to supply the computer which is estimated to cost the British taxpayer £854 million with the whole project put at £1.2 billion.

The problem for the government is that a French IT company, Atos, lost out in the tender process and feel so aggrieved they are suing the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Met Office. Atos allege that there were breaches of obligations under the Public Contract Regulations 2015 and they are entitled to damages.

There is some background in an interlocutory judgement relating to the nature of the expert evidence required: Atos IT Services UK Ltd. v. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy and another,

Having looked at the principles on expert evidence, the judge decided “that expert evidence will be admissible as to the explanation of technical terms; the context of the procurement; and the capacities and structures of the relevant computer systems but not as to the equivalence or otherwise between them.”

Basically, Atos claimed it was unfairly marked on questions about processors that would be used in the system despite the fact that the tender documents did not set out required hardware specifications.

The French company argued it was wrongly excluded and should have been the winning applicant as it “offered better value for the public purse.”

The Government says that in giving the contract to Microsoft, it had “awarded it to the bidder submitting the most economically advantageous tender.”

The Government also argued that it was not the court’s role to re-evaluate bids, and that Atos had not properly identified or pleaded the loss that it is alleged to have suffered.

The full trial was listed to happen last month (May 2022), and I assume it did. We can only wait for the judgement but it’s interesting in terms of the technicalities of supercomputers and the fact that so little has been said about it in the media.

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