Experiencing teething problems with the cluster three government outsourcing contract, CSC now faces the most public challenge of the contract so far - election night. This year, for the first time, a service provider will play a key role in ensuring the Federal Election, on October 3, 1998, runs smoothly from an IT perspective.
CSC is responsible for the Australian Electoral Commission's (AEC) IT infrastructure, following the cluster three departmental outsourcing contract the company won in May.
Tim Pickering, assistant commissioner, IT, at the AEC, said CSC got off to a slow start on cluster three. "This size of outsourcing project and the wide range of agencies outsourced under the same contract has led to a slow start, not only for CSC but for its subcontractors," Pickering said.
The cluster three outsourcing contract, valued at about $160 million over five years, comprises the following agencies: the AEC, the Department of Administrative Services, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the Australian Securities Commission, and the Australian Industrial Property Organisation.
"I think CSC didn't realise the enormity of the exercise," Pickering said. The biggest challenge for CSC relates to the agencies' legacy systems.
Pickering said CSC has had a hard time finding enough staff who know about the agencies' legacy systems to handle the cluster three help desk.
"Since the announcement of the election date I have witnessed a significant improvement in support and commitment by both CSC and the subcontractors," Pickering said.
One week before the election was announced CSC completed a new TCP/IP network, connecting the AEC's regional head offices, divisional offices around the country and AEC headquarters in Canberra.
The new network will carry results from all divisional offices to AEC's Canberra headquarters. It was recently tested using the 1996 results, and no problems were encountered.
The AEC's old network will run in parallel with the new network for the next few weeks, including election night, when results will be sent over the old network as well as the new, in case the new one fails at any point.
Results will be processed by the AEC's Election Management System (Elms) at the AEC's West Block offices and results will be transmitted to the tally room via Telstra lines. Telstra is acting as subcontractor to CSC and will supply three lines - one DDS and two ISDN, each routed through different exchanges to ensure triple redundancy.
Developed in-house in the late 1980s, Elms is based on an Ingres database running on a Sequent Unix platform. Back up Sequent platforms will be put in place on election night.
"We have a fair amount of redundancy built into the system," Pickering said. "I feel confident we have not implemented any systems that introduce levels of risk higher than we want," he said.
So is Pickering concerned that once the election is over, CSC and subcontractors will lose their newfound energy? Not likely, he says, as they won't have a chance to relax. As soon as the election is over, CSC will migrate the AEC's mainframe services from the Department of Finance and Adminstration to CSC's data centre at Sydney's Bondi Junction.
The election has delayed the migration of the AEC's mainframe, Pickering said. It was too risky before the election to attempt migration at the same time as updating the electoral roll on the mainframe, he added. CSC will also have to prepare for the possibility of a referendum on the republic in 1999, Pickering said.