​Is IBM’s reputation at an all-time Aussie low?

​Is IBM’s reputation at an all-time Aussie low?

Apparently, nobody ever got fired for buying IBM…

As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tactically passed the Australian #CensusFail buck to IBM, the former premier of Queensland issued a rather telling tweet.

For Campbell Newman’s 46,600 followers, a link back to an article published three years earlier best sums up the government’s attitude towards Big Blue.

‘Queensland bans IBM’ read The Australian headline, following the tech giant’s part in the health payroll debacle of 2010.

Fast forward to 2016 and the global multinational is once again embroiled in an Australian scandal, with questions being raised over its ability to effectively stand up the country’s online census service.

In short, the events of the past week make a mockery of the vendor’s well-known marketing slogan - Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.

Yet someone, somewhere in Australia is buying IBM, with Federal Government departments awarding the organisation a total of $1.35 billion in contracts since 2014, as highlighted on the AusTender website.

After winning the $9.6 million contract from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2014 - to design, develop and implement the online census - politicians and the media have now turned attentions squarely in the direction of the only non-government entity involved in allowing four distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

"The fact is that the service provider for the Australian Bureau of Statistics, IBM, did not put in place sufficient measures to deal with an entirely predictable circumstance - denial of service attacks," Turnbull said.

"That's a fact. There was a failure in provision."

Having been commissioned to host the platform in its Baulkham Hills datacentre in Sydney, Turnbull’s top cybersecurity advisor Alastair MacGibbon has been directed to inquire as to whether IBM did enough to avoid a failure.

“Measures that ought to have been in place to prevent these denial-of-service attacks interfering with access to the website were not put in place," Turnbull said.

“That was a failure that was compounded by some failures in hardware - technical hardware failures - and inadequate redundancy.”

While it’s too early to allow IBM to carry the can however, Ovum lead analyst of government sector, Kevin Noonan told the Sydney Morning Herald that it "beggars belief" that the vendor’s datacentre could not handle a denial of service attack of this magnitude.

“The attack was either a foreign or locally planned denial of service, or just a "large load" that appeared to be a denial of service but was in fact people trying to fill out the Census,” Noonan told the SMH.

With the Federal Government refusing to rule out seeking compensation for the failure of the website - which prevented millions of Australians from filling out census forms on Tuesday evening - IBM broke its silence days after the alleged attack, in a desperate bid to fight its corner as political pressure continues to intensify.

“We genuinely regret the inconvenience that has occurred,” an IBM spokesperson said. “Continuing to maintain the privacy and security of personal information is paramount.

“The Australian Signals Directorate has confirmed no data was compromised. Our cyber-security experts are partnering with national intelligence agencies to ensure the ongoing integrity of the site.”

Since the fallout, IBM has also found support through the opposition party in Labor Leader Bill Shorten.

When speaking to reporters post Turnbull’s comments, Shorten said the government had "rushed to being judge, jury and carrying out the sentence”, questioning whether the vendor was solely responsible for the error.

“It seems the government - even though we haven't heard from the [Australian] Signals Directorate what happened, even though we saw theories about Chinese hackers - they've already decided that IBM is the guilty party here,” Shorten said.

“Why on earth are you going to spend money on lawyers getting compensation when, if you'd done your day job properly to begin with, none of this mess would have occurred?

“Whatever happened to the principles of Westminster government where there's such a thing as ministerial responsibility?”

Irrespective of IBM’s part in the embarrassing events of the past seven days however, with the company already backlisted by the Queensland government for its flawed payroll rollout in 2010, is this another public fight too far for the vendor?

If the government does seek compensation, IBM will once again face an open assessment of its handling of government IT affairs, bringing back painful memories of its botched job in Queensland six years earlier.

Causing thousands of errors in pay, taxpayers forked out $1.2 billion for a $6.19 million project, severely denting IBM’s reputation as a trusted vendor of choice for government agencies.

While the Brisbane Supreme Court ruled against the state following a lengthy court process at the time, the ongoing dispute caused sizeable damage to IBM’s reputation as a safe pair of hands in government.

With the dust so far refusing to settle on IBM vs. yet another government agency, Newman told The Australian that “a Google search would have shown IBM’s poor performance at Queensland Health”, insisting that “people should lose their jobs over this.”

“I’ve got to say that very public fight was right there in front of the federal officials when they were deciding who to contract for the ABS project,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, recently published transcripts show Turnbull dodging the direct question of; “Will heads roll as a result of the failure of the Census collection last night?”

Mustering only a “there will certainly be a review of the events”, in five years time Australia will once again have another census, under the expectation that the circumstances of 2016 will not be repeated.

With a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the source of the census fallout expected in the coming weeks and months, closer scrutiny will no doubt cast a final verdict of blame.

But if the old adage of there’s no smoke without fire rings true once again, one overriding question then remains, can Big Blue bounce back again in Australia?

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