Former IBM boss grilled at Qld inquiry

Former IBM boss grilled at Qld inquiry

Summary: A former IBM boss has hit back at claims that he unfairly helped the IT giant win a multimillion-dollar contract to implement and run Queensland Health's payroll system.

TOPICS: Government AU, IBM

An inquiry into the bungled Queensland payroll system is examining whether IBM, which eventually won the contract ahead of rivals Accenture and Logica, was given an unfair advantage during the tender process.

The Queensland Health Payroll System Commission of Inquiry has already heard evidence suggesting that outside contractor Terry Burns helped IBM win the contract by giving the company unfair advice and attention that he did not afford its rivals.

A former IBM boss in South Africa, Burns had been contracted by the government's IT arm, CorpTech, to review the state's whole-of-government shared IT systems.

He took to the stand for the first time on Wednesday, where he was shown an email written by IBM executive Lochlan Bloomfield in May 2007.

It suggested that Burns had been "coaching" IBM and "expecting big things" from the company in terms of involvement in the project.

"I'm sure I would have expressed the same sort of encouragement ... with all vendors," he told the inquiry.

"I expressed the view many times ... we have to come up with a different way to stop the bleeding for Queensland taxpayers."

Burns also denied that he had indicated anything sinister by smiling and telling Bloomfield that he was a "long-time IBMer".

"It's very descriptive, but I'm afraid I have no recollection of using that term," he said.

Burns insisted that his enthusiasm for IBM's involvement was to encourage price competition between vendors, which had been lacking, and was not a priority at CorpTech.

"There was a very, very comfortable demeanour operating in CorpTech at that time," he said. "I was of the opinion that we needed to stir this up, and I wanted all the vendors to understand that there was going to be a very competitive atmosphere."

Burns had also been credited throughout the inquiry with coming up with the prime contractor model that eventually saw IBM in charge of all aspects of the IT services, including Queensland Health's payroll.

But Burns said on Wednesday that while he did support the idea, it was a decision that came about through input from various people.

Thousands of Queensland Health public servants were underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all after IBM's flawed computer system was rolled out in March 2010 under the former Labor government.

The bungle is expected to ultimately cost taxpayers AU$1.2 billion.

Burns will continue his evidence on Thursday.

Topics: Government AU, IBM

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  • Why worry about IBM, Microsoft is Worse !?! In SA and TAS.

    Why are there just concerns over this procurement? - Microsoft is much worse in Government. How much does the South Australian Government pay Microsoft a year ? - I suspect about 20 million or more. I bet there wasn't a tender where Microsoft had to display any form of value for money etc.....The government could obtain software through Open Source such as Ubuntu or even court Apple where there are low recurrent software costs... This would save on my TAX dollars.
    Why is there one rule for one set of software houses and another for Microsoft ?!?
    Take another example, the Tasmanian government pays 12.9 million to Microsoft per annum, thats PER ANNUM, but Microsoft has never had to sit through a tender process to be nominated the states sole software supplier under the Common Use Contract C141. Now for a state that is conservatively 300 Million in debt maintaining this software strategy doesn't make sense, unless there is a paper bag or a luxury Christmas cruise or two being thrown around. The Microsoft Christmas Cruise to Peppermint bay is always an annual favourite in Tassie :). I know a number of IT Managers in that state who have had their careers threatened if they didn't toe the Microsoft line....and no-one seems to care about the appropriate use of my tax dollar, with government representatives saying that paying Microsoft this huge amount every year is an "Acceptable Cost of Doing Business".
    The days of software monopolies are over, it is a new world and I don't understand why Governments are not adopting these more cost effective alternatives, (they sure are in Europe though). Maybe in Australia the state servants are too resistant to change or are scared of Microsoft and the SAM audit- It seems that in a cash strapped economy we don't have that luxury to throw away cash any more.
    Lets look for a fairer more transparent system to technology procurements.
    Richard Romanov
  • I agree

    I happen to know that Queensland pays more than 50 million to Microsoft per annum. I don't remember a tender for that procurement. I would like to see more free or open source software in government. This big issue though is that most CIOs and organisations are not open to change. They are still stuck under their Microsoft Monopoly Duvet from the 90s and only know a Microsoft world. Change is a scary prospect, especially in government, because all the best people tend to gravitate to private enterprise where hard work is rewarded. There is no reward for hard work in the public service. Plus Microsofts sales tactics, they 'play hard ball' and are nothing to be admired and may scare the little IT nerds. Steve Jobs didn't refer to CIO's as 'Orifices' for nothing.....
    Change will come rapidly in private enterprise, with government one day waking up to the fact that similar to IBM in the 90s, they have a mainframe and the world is living in client server land. The only issue is change is coming thick and fast these days, forget Moore's Law its now a 3 Month tech cycle.... Imaging what the world will look like by 2020, when a lot of governments will still be coming to EOL running Windows 7. What would they upgrade to then? Their users will be way behind the 8 ball. Something needs to be done about government procurement strategies, I agree they need to be open and honest but they also need to be strategic. The days of selecting IBM and Microsoft as the safe options have gone and they are certainly no longer cost effective. I am sure I could have built an App that could have had the same functionality as that payroll system in under six months for Queensland...:)
    On another note, I too have heard that the Microsoft Christmas party is big amongst government in Tasmania...:) But then they have Lenovo as a desktop environment there. I wonder if the PLA own a portion of Lenovo ? Chinese owned Wind farms are certainly big.