Farr prepares to hand over ‘secret IT business’

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Farr prepares to hand over ‘secret IT business’
Greg Farr, Defence CIO
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Farr noted that any Defence applications had to be secure and tap into a “single source of truth” to avoid conflicting data. But when his colleagues asked how apps would be governed, Farr said he would not govern it.

“I would give them a toolset,” he said. “If it was geospatial data, say, here’s the geospatial data – that’s the only one you can use.

“If you want to develop an app to [say] ‘how do I get to nearest bus stop’, that’s fine – as long as you use that set of data.”

But with only four months remaining on his contract, Farr did not expect to oversee an internal app store launch.

Defence is still in parallel negotiations with Telstra and Optus over a mammoth terrestrial telecommunications contract, expected to provide more secure telecommunications wherever staff may be.

“These are big contracts. They take a while and hopefully we’ll get to Government approval this year,” he said.

“[The app store] is still progressing. I at least hope to give a date when it will be launched, before I go. The people doing it are still tied up in the data centre consolidation.

“I know there is some thought going into it. So I’d like to be able to do that.”

Deeper relationships with fewer partners

Farr’s approach to Defence’s panel of suppliers has drawn considerable comment within and outside Canberra over his overt desire to work towards “deeper relationships with fewer industry partners”.

“What I actually have is a passion for is my interest in achieving outcomes in the business terms. I can identify with an [Australian Defence Force] person or a corporate and their business outcomes,” he said.

According to Farr, products may have the most elegant architecture, most sensational roll-out and best build. But they still failed if they did not meet business needs.

With vendors and suppliers, he sought straight talk about costs and about any internal or supplier staff that may be performing below par.

“I do want a relationship – an openness where we can lay things out on the table, and say ‘look I am not happy here’ – and accept it for what it is. You’d better do better,” he said.

To Farr’s successor

Defence began advertising for a new CIO earlier this month, with a departmental spokesman noting that there was “no opportunity” for Farr to extend his contract beyond November 18.

Farr advised his would-be successors to get immersed in Defence.

“It’s a war fighting organisation. Understand it,” he said. “Understand where the services are coming from.

“That’s what you are here for. If you don’t do that then, you are missing the bits of Defence. But if you do it, it’s a really good job.”

When asked about his post-Defence plans, Farr said he had “not given it too much thought”.

“My wife spoke to me about it. She insisted I take no more jobs this year,” he said. “So I finish on the 16th of November. I am not taking another job this year, under pain of death.”

But Farr was adamant that he would not be retiring, noting that he would consider private or public sector assignments after January 2013.

“I have always been in the public sector,” he noted.

“Whether private or public sector it has to be a good job. It has to be challenging something you can get your teeth into and really make a difference.”

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