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
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.
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
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.