Defence looks to break BlackBerry monopoly for iOS devices

The Australian Defence CIO Dr Peter Lawrence reflects on his year in the CIO role and reveals plans for the department to begin to offer staff iPhones and iPads instead of the traditional BlackBerry device in 2014.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Australian Department of Defence is looking to speed up Telstra's delivery of device management to its staff in a move that will see the department shift from a reliance on BlackBerry to give staff the option of choosing an iPhone or iPad instead.

Dr Peter Lawrence
Image: Department of Defence

In April, the Department of Defence signed an AU$1.1 billion agreement with Telstra for the telco giant to build and support the department's terrestrial communications network to over 430 sites and over 100,000 users across the globe.

At the end of October, Telstra took over full operational accountability for the project, and it is now working towards a detailed design review of the project in the first quarter of 2014.

While some parts of the contract are set in stone, Defence CIO Dr Peter Lawrence told ZDNet that given the lengthy nature of the agreement, there was built into it, a level of flexibility over what Telstra delivers at what time.

"In the agreement, although the end point is understood and we have a schedule of activities, in conjunction with Telstra we have the ability to reprioritise the things that we do. We do have some capacity in the agreement, if things change around us to reorder things," he said.

One of the parts Defence is looking to bring forward is the management of the organisation's mobile devices fleet. As with most government agencies, Defence has had a traditional reliance on BlackBerry for mobile hardware, but like many government agencies, Defence was now looking to move away from being an exclusively BlackBerry shop in early 2014.

"We'll give people the option to use iPhones and iPads as well as BlackBerry, as we move into the first part of next year," he said.

Defence had already conducted a successful trial of iOS devices, Lawrence said, and that getting the iOS platform in the department was the priority before looking to expand the offering to staff.

"Once we've got the iOS platform in place, we'll probably look at the Android as an alternate as well, but at the moment we're focused on the iOS platform."

BlackBerry's Australian MD Matt Ball told ZDNet last month that the company was focusing on retaining its enterprise and government customers through its BES10 device management platform that is now compatible with iOS and Android devices. Lawrence said that Telstra would be handling the device management.

Lawrence's first year

Lawrence has now spent just over a year in the role of CIO, after being appointed as the CIO in Novemeber 2012. He said that Defence was "unique and complex" to learn as a CIO, but he was coming to understand the job.

In August, Lawrence lost his long-time CTO Matthew Yannopoulos to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship — now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Lawrence said that the CTO position was still being filled by Major General Michael Milford, but a replacement would hopefully be appointed soon.

"Our intention is, subject to approval through the right channels, to replace the CTO role," he said.

"I think it is a critical role in our structure. Mike's doing a really good job in the role at the moment but in due course we'd probably like to bring someone else into that role."

In the meantime, Defence is getting on with a number of other large scale IT projects that have been in the planning for a while. After a pilot of around 1,400 staff members, the department's Next Generation Desktop project is now in the process of building out the infrastructure for the secret-level network phase of the rollout which will commence in March, Lawrence said.

"We'll hopefully have that completed within the next calendar year, and we're also starting to do planning on the secret protective network, which for us is the larger network in terms of the sheer number of users on it," he said.

"We'll start the planning, and we'll start the build in parallel with the secret network rollout."

In a department like Defence where there are a number of operations and test exercises going on, planning when to roll out the upgrades needs to take a number of different factors into account.

"It's quite a logistical challenge just to make sure we can get to the site, do the rollout, and make sure people have successfully made the shift in the environment," Lawrence said.

"We're planning around the things we know about. In Defence we have a series of exercises whether they are domestic exercises or international exercises, we can plan around that. There needs to be a degree of flexibility in our planning and we need to be able to absorb those, but generally we plan a reasonable amount of time."

Lawrence confirmed that Defence had rolled out the civilian payroll system for the Oracle AU$62 million Peoplesoft replacement over the last year, and had now begun moving to the next phase of the project.

"We've just started the build activities on the next phase of the project, that is to migrate the ADF legacy pay systems onto Peoplesoft," he said.

"That'll run until close to around the middle of next year, and then we've got an extensive period of testing [and] parallel runs. The current plan shows we'll migrate the pay systems in February 2015."

Asked how Defence has avoided the pain experienced by Queensland Health in rolling out its payroll system, Lawrence said that the key to success was running the two systems in parallel while the bugs are worked out.

"We've got all the unit testing and integration testing that will go into the build, but it is really around the configuration," he said.

"We've got a window of around 8 or 9 months for that. That will be important just to make sure we've got some use cases, we've tested various scenarios, and we're confident that the new Peoplesoft platform is performing the same way."

While the new Coalition government has excluded large agencies like Defence from being forced to use cloud services as part of its broader cloud policy, Lawrence said he believed that there were some cloud services Defence could potentially utilise.

"I think for some of our test development type activity where we might not have any production data we might be able to manage any security risks, absolutely I think some cloud-based service models could help us, so we don't have to do all that ourselves, we can be elastic, pay for what we need when we need it," he said.

"I can see a place for a service-type model in some of our production systems."

There was a potential for the department to trial more private cloud technology, at least, he said.

"If you look at the US. They're developing some cloud-based models within their Defense network, within the boundary, but they have a larger scale than we do," he said.

"I don't think it is out of the question. I just think we need to take it in small steps and with a degree of assessment to ensure we understand the security risks we might be taking.

"It's possible but I think we'll have to consider it carefully."

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