CSIRO shuns channel

CSIRO shuns channel

Commonwealth research organisation CSIRO's union has openly slammed the Government's initiative to outsource the science agency's IT requirements, planning a national strike for August 29 and calling into question the channel's ability to handle complex outsourcing requirements.

The science and technology research organisation is caught in an internal struggle as it faces the Government's policy to outsource the majority of its IT infrastructure.

While CSRIO already contracts some of its IT procurement and requirements, it can ill afford to outsource the bulk of its IT infrastructure, according to the CSIRO's union, a move which it refers to as "misguided and dangerous".

"Minister Fay is driving ahead with plans, without any idea of what he's doing," said Dr Pauline Gallagher, assistant secretary of the CSIRO Staff Association.

Gallagher believes the planned outsourcing will in fact increase the expense of running the science agency, cost numerous jobs and come at the detriment to CSIRO's research.

"In CSIRO, IT staff are very science literate and interact closely with research colleagues every day. It would be impossible for an outside contractor to step in and take over this role without jeopardising the CSIRO's research work," she said.

The argument centres around the impression that CSIRO's IT requirements are "too complex" for an outsourcer to be able to adequately handle CSIRO's needs.

Furthermore, it limits the number of potential tenderers for the contract to a handful of major multinational outsourcers thus retarding the government's stated intention to foster the local IT industry.

"The IT industry doesn't like it because only a few big companies can handle it," Gallagher told ARN. "It's ridiculous."The local office of global outsourcing operation, EDS was unavailable for comment on this particular case but a spokesperson was quick to point out that "EDS handles outsourcing for everyone from banks through government and defence all over the world".

Peter Kazacos, managing director of locally listed outsourcer KAZ Computer Services, was of the opinion that certain Government departments, because of the nature of the work they're doing, "should be internally looked after".

"If they want to get some economies of scale, the Government should bundle all its intellectually sensitive pieces of information together in its own central operation," Kazacos said. "Maybe CSIRO is the area for this bundling. CSIRO does development on behalf of the Australian Government and may be outsourcing to a multinational."However, Kazacos felt that such outsourcing should be kept in the hands of local companies.

"Okay, we're not at war with the US, but some sort of situation could arise that could make it difficult. And then what happens? All your IT is tied up with a US-based multinational.

"CSIRO is potentially a competitive industry to IT companies so in this respect it differs dramatically from Defence. If CSIRO has just worked on a very sophisticated alpha search algorithm which is cutting edge and potentially a competitive product well, how do you secure that? There's a conflict of interest in it, for sure," Kazacos said.

In a worst-case scenario, Gallagher believes the only way CSIRO's needs could be met is if its current IT staff were retained by the outsourcing company, but this would again increase cost as the staff would have to be retained at current industry rates. CSIRO's union fears any increase in cost will have to be funded by its research budget, which in turn, could result in a loss of scientific or technical staff.

CSIRO's management appears to be distancing itself from the uproar, claiming it is "collaboratively working" with the Government to solve CSIRO's outsourcing dilemma.

"We don't comment on Government policy," Ron Sandland, deputy chief executive of CSRIO, said. "It's a union matter and it has established its own agenda, but we understand the basis of their concerns."Sandland claims CSIRO has been given assurances by Minister for Finance and Administration, John Fay, that any outsourcing would be able to accommodate the science agency and that the CSIRO is trialling a number of outsourcing models.

A spokesperson for the minister's office also claimed the government was working with CSIRO to develop a successful model, but assured the Office of Asset Sales and Information Technology Outsourcing (OASITO) would continue its initiative to outsource budget funded "group 9" agencies, which include science and technology research divisions.

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