news analysis The Immigration Department's ability to manage multiple vendors will prove critical to the success of its massive Systems for People technology revamp, according to IT consultancy Gartner.
Systems for People is the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's (DIAC) AU$496 million answer to the shortcomings in its record-keeping systems that led to the embarrassing wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez, among others.
The department called in IBM last year to spearhead the effort. However, while DIAC considers Big Blue its strategic partner on the work, a number of other large vendors -- such as Fujitsu, UXC, EDS, Oracle (and its subsidiary Siebel) -- are also believed to have been involved in some capacity. This week, it was revealed the department had added CSC to that list due to a lack of available Siebel skills on the part of IBM.
"The CSC involvement for additional skills doesn't surprise me at all," Gartner's Richard Harris told ZDNet Australia. The analyst is Gartner's Asia-Pacific vice president, Research.
"Particularly because those types of skills are in pretty high demand right across Australia at the moment, let alone for Canberra-based projects."
Harris said with a complex set of projects such as those under the Systems for People banner, there was always considerable potential for needing to change initial supplier arrangements as the project developed.
However, the analyst said the "burning question" for DIAC was if it had enough internal capability to keep the various vendors working together adequately in order to keep the overall project moving forward.
"I'm of the view that they're fully aware of what they face in doing so, that they have made efforts to have that capability in place, but the cut and thrust of actually running the project is when these things are fully challenged," Harris said. "And they're in the midst of that now."
"I think the project and program management part of it, they've gone in very much with eyes open as to what's involved," he added.
According to Harris, another big challenge for DIAC will be how to enable multiple, overlapping streams of projects within Systems for People at the same time.
There are certainly enough examples of public sector technology initiatives gone wrong for DIAC to draw lessons from. It was only two months ago, for example, that the federal government's auditor handed down a damning report on the Australian Customs Service's disastrous Cargo Management Re-Engineering (CMR) project.
DIAC's Systems for People initiative sits alongside other mammoth initiatives such the Australian Taxation Office's AU$400 million-$450 million Change Program in a climate that would look unfavourably on further problems of the scope exhibited by Customs' CMR project.
"The political pressures they have for doing this quickly are very strong, and that in itself puts a lot of pressure on the organisation, plus their use of external partners to do important parts of it," said Harris.
However, Harris is optimistic about DIAC's chances.
"I think they've got a far better chance of doing it more successfully than many other major change programs, because they've put a lot more effort into trying to plan and manage it better than is often the case," he said.
Editor's note: Gartner has completed consultation work for DIAC on the Systems for People project.