​Department of Defence begins battle with information management

The Department of Defence CIO Peter Lawrence has outlined that information management, reducing duplication, and creating interoperable networks are on the agenda for improving the agency's functions.

The Australian Department of Defence is currently undergoing its own internal battle of trying to support its existing legacy system while it embarks on its digital transformation program of put together a newer, secure, and more efficient infrastructure.

Peter Lawrence, Department of Defence CIO, speaking at the Technology in Government Summit in Canberra, said driving the transformation is the agency's realisation at how important it is to communicate data to the frontline.

"One of the biggest challenges we face is the traditional definition of warfare is changing, so our view is the next battle will be data information, and it will be whoever can take actionable data and knowledge the fastest will be the winner," he said.

"We've changed our thinking about what we need to deliver to the war fighter and it has changed the way we deliver ICT."

Lawrence said on Wednesday that as Defence currently works through its transformation, one of its key focus will be around improving information management, highlighting the current challenge is knowing how to sift through the influx of data, and then deliver the appropriate information to the right people at the right time to make better decisions.

"The Joint Strike Fighter replacement for the Super Hornet, when it lands, will download hundreds and hundreds of gigabyte of data from the performance of the aircraft, performance of the pilot, and sensors. But what do you do with all of that?

"If you've got a squadron of them you can imagine there'll be terabytes of data, then you have to think about what's important, what do you need to keep, how do you process it, and that is a challenge for us to understand what that information is giving us, how do we understand it, and what is useful," he said.

Additionally, Defence currently has 300 finance systems, but Lawrence said he hopes to see that condensed into one, admitting that reconciling all those systems will not be easy.

Another point of focus for Defence will be trying to create a more flexible and interoperable environment so that, when needed, its networks can be securely plugged into the environments of its coalition partners, other agencies, and whole of government, Lawrence said.

More specifically, one area in which the agency is looking into is how the amphibious battle groups are communicating between air, land, and sea.

"Our challenge is how do we join these environments up, how to architect the future, how do we get some standards and processes to drive what we need, so that we're able to interoperate and join things up as seamlessly as possible," he said.

Lawrence added the agency will change the way it delivers these capabilities to complement the transformation of its infrastructure. He said traditionally projects would often "require a very strict engineering process and that will take many years", but the agency will now be taking a more bite-size, jigsaw-style modular approach.

"One of the programs I've got at the moment is we've got two options: We have a three year delivery cycle or we can split it down in to 10 chunks and progressively deliver it over three years. It's blatantly obvious which way we should go," he said.

The steps outlined by Lawrence follow recommendations that were made to the Department of Defence as part of the First Principles Review in April. In the 76 recommendations made, the review suggested that the department improve structures, processes, and systems.