Apple, Google and smaller, more agile technology projects are set to overtake traditional enterprise IT products and delivery at the Department of Defence.
Addressing an IEEE conference in Canberra last week, Defence chief information officer Greg Farr called for the end of monolithic solutions that took years to procure, customise and deliver.
Defence's conservative two-pass procurement process introduced delays of up to two years, Farr said. Meanwhile, the IT industry produced new technology every 18 months.
That was a recipe for delivering obsolete technology, he said.
Farr complained that every time systems integrators saw him they proposed the “same paradigm that they have been touting for the last 20 years”.
He sought an IT roll-out approach that allowed more experimentation -- even occasional failures -- so the department could benefit from having a working prototype that was open to real-time changes.
"I want lots of little projects delivered frequently and evolutionarily," he said, predicting the end of Defence projects costing more than $1 million.
“When I talk about evolutionary development, I am talking about people sitting in a usability laboratory with the programmer sitting beside them, writing code or doing the configuration while they are actually watching what is happening in front of them."
Flagging the end of "enterprise IT", Farr looked forward to a defence computing environment that encouraged user-preferred devices and smaller applications that reached users more quickly.
Defence's PeopleSoft Oracle human resources system had more than six million lines of custom code, he said, raising concerns about the cost of customisations.
When Farr established a simulation lab with a new, out-of-the-box version of the Oracle product, "most [users] said the plain vanilla version worked pretty well out of the box”, he said.
But if he had asked staff what they wanted, instead of simply encouraging them to try the product, the project would have undergone a long, convoluted customisation process, he said.
Farr backed up Defence chief technology officer Matt Yannopoulos' call for an internal "App Store" would allow users to download a specific solution with live updates offered as needed.
“I don’t see any of that coming back from vendors that talk with me in the way of solutions,” he said.
He revealed that the real competition for system integrators would come from off-the-shelf Apple, Google or “any of those mobile names" that were "now becoming usable, in a serious way".
"Blackberrys, BYO [bring your own devices] is where we are moving," he said. "Enterprise IT is something that has had its day. We need to get much more flexible and agile."
Open book requirement
Farr, who had taken on personal directorship of Defence's Computer Network Defence project and Project CERTE, said he wanted to foster "deeper" and more open relationships with the department's vendor community.
For large projects, vendors had to be prepared to open their accounts to assure against kickbacks.
A Defence spokesman said its contracts contained provisions that would allow the Commonwealth -- including Defence and the Australian National Audit Office -- to access the contractor’s premises, records and/or accounts that were relevant to or impacting on the performance of work under the contract.
“That’s been quite a shock to people as we go through the negotiations. But we would expect to do that," Farr told the IEEE conference.
"So I am saying to all companies, in the course of the contract, if you are making money by actually getting commissions from other people, that I am not aware of, in projects that relate to me, you must declare them to me.
"That has caused a real ruckus, let me tell you - primarily because they have to get approval from the US and stuff like that."
According to the department, no tenderers have declined or withdrawn from contract negotiations due to the Commonwealth access clauses so far..