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Wanted: IT saviour for Vic Police

Victoria Police needs to appoint a pinch-hitter chief information officer with a mandate to implement a long-term solid ICT strategy and scrub the bilge from its decks.
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor on

commentary Is there anything that Victoria Police's IT department is doing well?

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ZDNet.com.au news editor
Renai LeMay
(Credit: ZDNet.com.au)

That's the question that Australia's IT industry must have been asking itself on Sunday morning after Melbourne newspaper The Age published a lengthy article about the state of the force's technology support arm, Business Information Technology Services (BITS).

The story read like a laundry list of how not to run an IT department, containing as it did lurid allegations of budget blow-outs, non-existent business continuity and security plans, unaccounted funds, mismanagement of contractors, mass senior staff resignations, and so on.

Not exactly your typical Sunday morning read ... you can imagine quite a few people were choking into their Weetbix.

It's a story that ZDNet.com.au, too, has been following over the past few months. While we're not in a position to verify The Age's extensive list of complaints, there is no doubt BITS is in a troubled place following the resignation of CIO Valda Berzins and an ongoing investigation by Victorian ombudsman George Brouwer, who has described its IT systems as "unsuited to a 21st century approach to policing".

The newspaper claimed there had been problems with the force's dealings with one of its main IT services suppliers, IBM; a relationship neither Big Blue nor Victoria Police was today willing to comment on.

Setting aside who is to blame for the problems (that approach never got anybody anywhere), the question now becomes one of how the force is to go forward and bring its systems up-to-date.

The Australian Financial Review reported last week that fledgling Victorian Government IT shared services agency CenITex would add Victoria Police to the roster of departments it provides services to. Most likely this new deal will cover commodity needs such as desktop, network and hosting services and will leave overhauling line-of-business applications that support frontline policing to others.

Following Berzin's resignation, BITS is currently being overseen by a board of management, which no doubt is concentrating its efforts on fighting fires as quickly as they come up and trying to keep the force out of the press.

Victoria Police needs to appoint a pinch-hitter chief information officer with a mandate to implement a long-term solid ICT strategy

Examining this situation objectively, it's plain that after this initial fire-fighting period is over and things calm down a little, Victoria Police needs to appoint a pinch-hitter chief information officer with a mandate to implement a long-term solid ICT strategy and scrub the bilge from its decks.

For inspiration, the force should look to the October 2007 appointment of long-time Australian Taxation Office IT leader and staunch public servant Greg Farr to the post of Department of Defence CIO.

Farr's hiring was a coup for a department whose name had been dragged through the mud by the IT press for some time due to what was perceived as an inability to deliver some basic services.

And if the release of (yet another) audit into Defence's payroll processes last week was any indicator, Farr's having some success at changing the reputation of Defence's CIO Group, which broadly manages IT services as BITS does.

Noting CIO Group had been consulted during the review, auditors KPMG noted it was broadly incompletely executed procedures "rather than system problems per se" that had led to Defence's recent payroll woes.

When you take this outcome with the fact that Defence's other IT problems seem to have vanished from journalists' minds over the past year or so, there's only one logical outcome: Farr's appointment is having a subtle but powerful impact on Defence.

This is exactly the sort of problem-solver that Victoria Police needs to hire to bring its own IT ship up-to-date and put the pride for a job well done back into the hearts of the BITS staff.

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