Defence CIO puts hard line on integrators

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Defence CIO puts hard line on integrators
Defence CIO Greg Farr.

Demands "A-Team" from successful suppliers.

Defence CIO Greg Farr has warned a revitalised panel of approved systems integrators against moving in their "B-Team" to work on the agency's systems.

The panel, which will feature four to five integrators, is likely to be put in place by the end of September.

It comes one year after the department tendered for submissions to an internal review of Defence's IT sourcing strategy, aimed at speeding up the time taken to implement new applications and capabilities.

With the panel tender now closed, Defence has begun notifying successful applicants.

Defence CIO Greg Farr told iTnews that even those deemed suitable would be kept on a short leash.

"I said to a group at an industry briefing, 'once we actually partner with you, if you continue to show value for money, if you continue to deliver, if you continue to actually have the "A-Team" provided to us, then you can expect an ongoing flow of work'," Farr said. "'As soon as you don't do any of the above, then you won't get any work at all'."

An 'app store' approach to IT delivery

Both Farr and Defence chief technology officer Matt Yannopoulos have in recent years voiced concerns over Defence's slow approach to IT, and the pressures from internal staff to speed up capability and application deployment.

Yannopoulos claims an 'application store' approach is required  to reduce duplication of applications across networks with different clearance levels. Defence's secret network had "more than 1,000" applications, he said, while the lesser restricted network contained 3,086 applications at the time.

Farr said the idea of such a service catalogue had driven a desire within the department to approach IT on a more "ad-hoc" basis, an effect flowing onto how the department dealt with suppliers.

"I spoke to the industry probably six months ago, and I said to them 'you think you're competing against other systems integrators, but also you're really competing now against an app store," Farr said. "For any IT shop, including us, if people can go to an app store, download an app and pay $10 for it, that's the sort of expectation it can build up, and we need to build that up as well."

Farr said he had no overarching strategy as to when such a store might be put in place, but had considered the approach. The store would likely be limited to very basic apps such as office productivity and not large, complex applications like ERP systems.

The department had also discussed software-as-a-service as a potential solution to speeding up the delivery of basic applications, but Farr said vendor lock-in - among other security issues - had prevented Defence from exploring the idea further.

"We're always going to be slower than a small business that wants to pull something down," he said. "Having said that, I don't think we can take as long as we currently are to deliver some of our major applications."

Internal tune-up

The move to consolidate a new panel of integrators came in conjunction with an internal review around applications and project staff. A three-month restructure, sparked by a review commissioned by Farr from advisory Boston Consulting Group, was completed on 1 July and put in place for the first time this week.

Around 150 staff - specifically from the Applications Sustainment Branch - were realigned under the Information and Communications Technology Operations Division, led by Major General Mike Milford, who directly reported to Farr.

No staff were lost during the move, which Farr said was more likened to a "refocus" than restructure.

The staff moves, he said, reflected a transition in some IT projects from the design phase to execution.

"We kept drifting back to design and worrying at the edges of it," he said. "I was worried if we actually went on without that clearer focus, things were going to slip. The potential for slippage in six or 12 months was there, I thought."

Virtualising risk

Farr has also continued assessing whether to abandon the Kinnaird two-pass procurement process currently used by the department in consultation with the Federal Government.

Introduced in 2008, the two-pass process was designed to provide Cabinet with better information on major investments in ICT-enabled proposals.

Defence's next-generation desktops initiative was one such project facing delays as a result of the procurement process, having only gained first-pass approval in May despite plans to trial thin clients late last year. A land-based trial of desktops from one of the shortlisted suppliers - which include Raytheon, BAE Systems, Thales and HP - was expected to take place among 500 users in coming months.

A similar trial of thin clients on Defence battleship the HMAS Sydney earlier in the year was deemed successful.

The thin client approach allows user access to both the restricted and secret domains from a single machine.

"That's where the big pay-off for us is," he said. "Without much imagination you could see that extending down to an unclassified domain as well."

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