Defence fails basic ICT services test

update A wide-ranging review released today has severely criticised the Department of Defence's internal IT department for being unable to provide basic services to users. "The primary output of any ICT organisation is to maintain basic ICT services and to respond proactively to customer needs.

update A wide-ranging review released today has severely criticised the Department of Defence's internal IT department for being unable to provide basic services to users.

"The primary output of any ICT organisation is to maintain basic ICT services and to respond proactively to customer needs. Defence ICT does not appear to be meeting these requirements, at least as far as basic ICT services and support of business systems is concerned," the Defence Management Review stated.

Brendan Nelson, Defence minister

The review was commissioned by Defence Minister Brendan Nelson (pic) in August last year, with a view to examining organisational efficiency and effectiveness within Defence. Among a number of other areas, the review devoted an entire chapter to the management of the department's information systems.

Defence's chief information officer group (CIOG) -- led by Air Vice Marshal and CIO John Monaghan until his resignation last month -- suffered from a poor perception of its ability to adequately deliver ICT services to internal Defence customers, the report found.

"This can be attributed to past failures, continued periods of low network reliability, and an ongoing inability to adequately service standard requests such as network access, password resets and drive access," the report stated. "CIOG itself estimated in early 2006 that the Information Systems Division was delivering only 10-15 percent of customer demand."

These problems were compounded by a lack of customer prioritisation and communications. In addition, the report found that there was an "unnecessarily diverse range of technologies operating on Defence's network", with a lack of recognition of technical controls which fell under the CIO group's oversight umbrella.

High-level problems also existed within Defence's ICT governance structure, with the report stating it was unlikely a suitable candidate to replace Monaghan would be found within the department. Defence has commenced an external recruitment process to replace Monaghan.

In addition, the report stated it was not apparent that Defence had a well-developed ICT strategy that easily converted into a business plan going forward.

Even the department's purchasing habits came under fire. "There is an apparent lack of ICT acquisition policy that delivers best value for money," stated the report. "Standard ICT products and services were, until recently, acquired on an ad-hoc basis with variable contractual arrangements that did not maximise value for money."

The review made a substantial number of recommendations to improve Defence's ICT function, which the department has agreed to.

Not all bad news
While damning, the report noted Defence had still made a significant amount of progress in some areas of its technology function. These reforms have come in response to a 2003/04 review undertaken by the Boston Consulting Group into the Defence Information Environment.

Since that time, Defence has integrated a number of disparate ICT functions into its CIO Group. "ICT investment planning has improved substantially," the report found.

Defence has also made ground on:

  • Identifying opportunities for performance improvement
  • Developing a whole-of-organisation approach to ICT planning
  • Alleviating the backlog of development work
  • Planning for future enterprise resource planning (ERP) upgrades and enhancements in an integrated way
  • Reviewing its outsourcing contract for its central office ICT infrastructure with an effort to facilitate a more efficient and effective deliver of services

In addition, the report noted that Defence's support to its military operations -- the most critical area of its service delivery -- appeared to be operating effectively.

While Defence's systems are in great need of extra help, the government is not expected to put more tenders on the market.

The review recommended that Defence not outsource additional IT services until it understands its business processes and associated benchmarks and costs.

Also: Defence pledges ICT reform agenda