Atos files legal challenge over Met Office contract

01 March 2021 3 min. read
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Global IT consultancy Atos has alleged that the Met Office used “draconian” methods to reject its tender to oversee a billion-pound supercomputing project. Microsoft has seemingly been awarded the role to create the Met Office’s new supercomputer, though Atos has filed a legal challenge against the deal.

The Meteorological Office, abbreviated as the Met Office, is Britain’s national weather service. As the institution looks to apply the latest technological advances to its mapping of the weather, 2020 saw the Met Office announced it would spend £1.2 billion on building the world's most powerful supercomputer dedicated to weather and climate.

The first phase of the project is due to begin in 2022, with a second phase taking place in 2028, proposing to expand it a further threefold. In January 2021, following a tender process, global technology giant Microsoft was awarded the contract to construct the supercomputer – however, a legal dispute from Atos IT Services UK has reportedly cast doubt on that initial decision.

Atos files legal challenge over Met Office contract

Atos is currently understood to be asking the High Court to intervene, and set aside the contract decision, citing claims that the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Meteorological Office breached procurement laws when choosing to award the contract to Microsoft.

In the first public mention of a company being awarded the Met Office supercomputing contract, Atos has stated it was in a “competitive dialog process” with the Met Office over the course of 2020, before submitting a final bid in November, which it claims tackled more than 450 technical questions. However, just two months later, the company asserts that it was told its submission had been a "non-compliant final tender" and the contract had instead been awarded to Microsoft instead.

The case, Atos versus The Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy and another, was first reported by Law360. In that reported claim, which was submitted to the High Court, Atos stated the Met Office chose “the most draconian course of rejecting tender as non-Compliant rather than exercising its lawful power to issue or seek clarifications,” while suggesting the Met Office “is proposing to proceed instead with the tender which scored lower in quality, transferred more commercial risk to the defendant and is more expensive.”

On top of this, Atos claims that it was unfairly marked on questions about its choice of processors – alleging that the Met Office in fact decided what the requirements it needed to meet were after seeing the submitted bids. As a result, Atos is asking the High Court to declare that it should have been awarded the project, while awarding it damages because it was wrongly excluded on the basis of undisclosed requirements – something the firms believes breached procurement law.

Initially, a spokesperson for the Met Office told Law360 that the news was “a reasonably common step in any extensive and rigorous procurement of this scale,” and that the organisation was confident that “any issues can be worked through.” Soon after this, news site since reported that the High Court has lifted the injunction, allowing the Met Office to proceed with its supercomputer procurement.

“We will continue to robustly defend our selection decision at any future hearings and remain confident that any issues can be worked through,” a spokesperson told

Atos has significant experience in the field of supercomputing, and is one of the UK’s largest providers of supercomputing services. In August 2020 it was announced that Atos had signed a four-year contract worth £5 million with the University of Oxford to deliver a new deep learning supercomputer. Built on NVIDIA DGX SuperPOD architecture, the new system will enable UK academics and industry to drive innovation in machine learning and artificial intelligence.