The Department of Parliamentary Services has admitted that the network used by parliamentarians is so complex that it's difficult to predict the outcome of network upgrades.
Liberal Senator Scott Ryan took time out during the Senate Estimates' Finance and Public Administration committee today to reference a security upgrade in January that required him to reboot and connect to the network in order to save documents onto his electorate office servers that he was accessing remotely.
Deputy Secretary of Parliamentary Services David Kenny explained to the senators that the January upgrade was implemented on short notice due to security issues.
"The way it was done — and this was a surprise to me as well — had an unintended consequence for people who were using the network remotely. For those people, they had to go and find an electorate office where they could physically plug their computer into the network," he said.
Kenny admitted that the network and the applications and software installed on it were much more complex than they should be, which made it difficult for IT administrators to test and replicate in a test environment what would happen when upgrades were rolled out.
"We have actions in place now to make it simpler which will therefore make it simpler to test and therefore make it easier to assure that any changes we make don't have unintended consequences."
Ryan also said that compared to his work in private corporations, he had suffered "substantial" system access problems in his two-and-a-half years in the Senate; however, Kenny said that given the complexity, the network had suffered fewer issues than were expected.
"Given the complexity in terms of [connecting] this building plus connecting to all the electorate offices, plus remote access plus all the agencies involved (noting there are four different departments who each have a hand in providing the aggregate set of IT services that senators and members receive, plus a number of contractors ... there's probably at least six organisations who can contribute to the overall service and therefore contribute to the overall disconnect to the service), I think the network is pretty good," he said.
Kenny noted that there had been five major incidents in the last year, and that all but one were triggered by an "external event". He said he didn't think the network was unreliable.
Kenny said that Special Minister of State Gary Gray had directed the Department of Parliamentary Services to take over all IT functions for electorate offices from the Department of Finance and Deregulation. He said the move will mean that members and senators will now deal with his department for their IT issues. Negotiations over the funding for this transfer were still taking place, he said, but it was expected to be completed at the end of this financial year.