Defence partners for specialist skills

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Defence partners for specialist skills
Greg Farr, Defence CIO

Farr talks tough on new partnership models with suppliers.

The Department of Defence will rely on industry partners for specialist skills, after failing to attract enough suitable IT graduates to the public sector.

According to Defence chief information officer Greg Farr, the department was "struggling to get the people we need".

“Our employment offer is not as compelling as some other places," he told the ACS national conference in Canberra.

"We’ll never be able to pay what industry is paying for those specialist skill-sets."

Documents from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations indicate that the public sector has attracted shrinking numbers of IT graduates over the last ten years.

In 2001 16,642 eligible applicants applied for a position in the public sector. In 2011 this figure had plummeted 5718.

Farr told the ACS conference that Defence sought in-house commercial managers and project directors, business analysts, information security personnel, and IT architects.

In addition to technical requirements, he sought staff with "soft skills" to meet the expectations of a tough new generation business users by collaborating and delivering rapid solutions to meet client needs.

“We need to change our operating model in the way we work with business users,” Farr said.

“The worst scenario is we don’t remain relevant as an IT organisation.”

“I am looking for people in my organisation that ... have a proper aptitude and [willingness] to shake that tree, and the ability to put the effort in understanding the business domain they are working in.”

Other, more specialist skill sets would be supplied by a smaller group of industry suppliers and partners, he said.

Partnering model causes discomfort

Farr said his partnering model was causing “discomfort” for both Defence and industry due to friction in the setting of parameters and assumptions of how projects would be achieved.

He sought greater collaboration over business objectvies, performance expectations, transparancy over the contract and cost, and risk.

“I am still surprised where I enter into a contract, as I have done a number of times, and at the end the outcome was not achieved in business terms,” he said.

At that point, he said contractors typically demanded further work and more money, only to be told that the outcome needed to be delivered if they expected to be paid.

“Well I’m sorry”, he said. “We actually contracted with you for this outcome.”

Farr said he was sympathetic to the contractor’s position, but said he was "still surprised when the industry responds in this way and suggests they will run at a loss”.

“We don’t want you to run at a loss,  that does nobody any good," he said. "But we actually need to do things in a way that you are responsible for the outcome and be held accountable for.”

He called for more transparency, noting that uncommunicated assumptions -- for example, that the department would provide some function or facility by the time the contractor required it -- were often the cause of many problems.

“Both sides make a lot of assumptions and that’s wear the tears really start,” Farr said. “I don’t want finger pointing. I want continuity and clear lines of accountability.”

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