Parliament on hunt for CIO and one-stop IT shop

The Department of Parliamentary Services, which runs the Australian Federal Parliament, is on the hunt for its first chief information officer, and is eying creating a one-stop-shop for ICT in parliament.

The Department of Parliamentary Services has created a new chief information officer role to deal with the increasing demands on IT services within the Australian Federal Parliament.

The role was created as the department today tabled a long-awaited report (PDF) on ICT in the Australian Federal Parliament.

New Department Secretary Carol Mills told a Budget Estimates hearing today that the new CIO role will commence on October 22, and that the department was in the process of recruiting for the position.

The CIO will head up a new ICT division within the department, as recommended by the report.

The Australian Federal Parliament network is Microsoft Windows-based and has over 4800 users, according to the report. It has 266 physical servers, 331 virtual servers, and has 800TB of storage. In addition to this, it connects to 265 servers based in electorate offices across Australia. The network has 4378 desktops and laptops attached, and each electorate office is given a 2 megabit-per-second (Mbps) connection, but the department is looking to push this up to 4Mbps. Telstra has been brought in to increase broadband speed to electorate offices by 2013, Mills said.

Within the parliament, the Department of the Senate, the Department of the House of Representatives, and the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) all currently purchase, install, and maintain their own IT equipment. However, the report recommended that this all be moved into a "one-stop shop" for ICT services.

This division, under the CIO, would be responsible for acquiring, installing, and supporting hardware and software for parliamentarians' offices in parliament and their electorates, parliamentarians' mobile computing requirements, as well as the requirements of the departments within the parliament.

While the parliament network can now handle iPad connections, the report noted that this was placing extra pressure on "systems, such as COMDOCS, that were not designed with the iPad in mind." The report stated that further investment is required to make sure the systems are iPad-compatible.

The report found that a substantial number of parliamentarians preferred the iPhone to the BlackBerry, but some said the BlackBerrys that are currently provided had their functionality restricted, so that it was difficult to even install RIM apps on the devices. Those who favoured the iPhone complained that it had taken a long time to offer it as an option, and that there was no access to the app store.

Parliamentarians also said that they were willing to accept additional security risk with their mobile devices, in exchange for having a shorter pass code and a longer time-out.

The report made 11 recommendations in total, including the creation of a parliamentary ICT advisory board, an advisory user group, the rationalisation of corporate systems to a single version (where possible), allowing MPs to select their own electorate office IT, and the creation of the ICT division within DPS with the new CIO.

Mills told the hearing that she agrees with the recommendations, and that she is committed to making the changes happen as quickly as feasible.

"I expect we will have a plan and a timetable within the next six weeks," she said.

While the department is recruiting a CIO, Mills indicated someone from the Department of Human Services would act as a temporary CIO for the Department of Parliamentary Services.

In conducting the review, 24 parliamentarians, including Malcolm Turnbull, Stephen Conroy, Kate Lundy, Peter Slipper, and Paul Fletcher, were all interviewed for their opinions on the state of parliamentary IT.