​Department of Immigration and Border Protection: We can't afford to fail

Streamlining disparate technologies is the focus of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service's AU$1.5 billion merger into the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

With the merger of the border control functions of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service into a single, integrated border agency underway, Randall Brugeaud, Immigration CIO, has said they can't afford to fail.

Speaking to a room full of chief information officers at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on the Gold Coast, Brugeaud explained that 60 percent of the AU$1.5 billion change program is related to investments in technology.

"Technology is becoming more and more critical every day," he said. "About 14 percent of our overall workforce -- around 2,000 people in our department -- are involved in delivering technology of some form."

The departmental amalgamation was one of the efficiency measures recommended by the Commission of Audit during the 2014-15 Budget Review.

Then-Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison announced on May 9, 2014 that the government would adopt the Commission's recommendation and establish the Australian Border Force from July 1, 2015, and said at the time that it would be "a reform measure, not simply a savings measure".

According to Brugeaud, the departments have an aggregation of quite a number of different disparate technologies, requiring almost a complete overhaul of existing service providers.

"We work in 70 offshore locations, we have about 40 remote sites around Australia, we have hundreds of business applications, we have hundreds of databases, multiple datacentres, many thousands of servers, 250 plus head contracts, and 500 suppliers that work in our environment," he said.

"Incredibly large footprint geographically, but also the nature of the business that we support is quite extensive."

Brugeaud explained the legacy immigration systems are highly integrated around a client data hub, which he said means the department gains insight into quite a good view of a client's dealings with the department, but it means it can be quite difficult to change or adjust anything to do with that integration. Customs systems however, were built around domains, he said.

With different sourcing strategies and partners for each previous department, Brugeaud said more different decisions really could not have been made historically by each as well.

"Where there was a big piece of infrastructure that was supported by an external provider, immigration made one decision and customs made another," he said.

"As a result we have virtually all of the big players that you could possibly imagine working in our environment."

The transition that is happening right now includes moving the Computer Sciences Corp (CSC) main processing onto IBM infrastructure that Brugeaud insists will be completed on the December 12, 2016.

Originally, the project that requires the tech giant to merge the Customs and Immigration computer systems was slated for completion by October 12, 2016, but amid the investigation into the botched 2016 Census, it was reported that IBM looked "increasingly unlikely" to meet the project's demands.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection told the ABC in a statement last month that the schedule with IBM "remains under active review".

"This is common to all major system changes in which the protection of operational capability and security protections remains the overarching priority," the statement reportedly said.

The ABC report pointed toward the possibility of IBM picking up staff from CSC to help in meeting the impending deadline.

The Immigration Department announced in April last year it would be using IBM's cognitive computing platform Watson to tap into further sources of relevant information, from which the department hopes to be able to make further observations from unstructured data sources such as news feeds and government reports.

At the time, when he was acting deputy secretary of intelligence and capability, Brugeaud said the use of Watson has the potential to serve up large amounts of useful data without overloading analysts.

"We are hoping that Watson will allow us to more effectively manage the information overload problem by detecting signals in the very noisy world of unstructured, open-source data," he said.

"Being able to rapidly expose connections between otherwise isolated threads will allow us to become more effective in our mission."

Brugeaud confirmed on Monday that so far the department has transitioned its telecommunications from Telstra to Optus, moved its service desk onto Unisys, implemented Trim as its enterprise records management system, and tasked MobileIron with its mobile device management.

"127 projects build up our delivery program this financial year, so we invest half a billion in run for technology each financial year," Brugeaud said.

"Our transformation program amounts to about half a billion dollars on top of that."

Disclosure: Asha McLean travelled to Gartner Symposium/ITxpo as a guest of Gartner.

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