Defence IT in 2020

Plans include network upgrades, revised procurement and ITIL

Almost five months ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and 1000 delegates representing industries including health, security, and the arts converged on Canberra for the 2020 Summit.

Information Technology did not make the summit agenda, but that has not deterred Department of Defence (DoD) CIO Greg Farr who is carving out a 12 year plan for the role of IT in defence.

As part of Farr's plans, defence is putting a knife to procurement, recruitment and portfolio management under a massive change management strategy set to improve IT operations from the office to the battlefield.

Farr, a former tax office IT chief turned defence CIO, is charged with creating agility through more than 460 sites nationally, between international bases from Afghanistan to the Solomon Islands and improving governance over some 600 outsourcing contracts.

His priorities centre on making IT more responsive to business demands and improving the speed of decision making.

“The big challenge between now and 2020 is making information available to the business and decision makers in our very diverse and geographically spread environment,” Farr said.

“Defence is a microcosm of the world. We need to put efforts into connectivity, information management and collaboration, largely to support the war fighting effort which needs instant communication.

“The decision-making loops in defence are shrinking so we need to send information much faster than currently is the case.”

Dedicated teams are “studiously working” on revising the department's investment and sourcing strategies, including tender processes and vendor contracts, and are due to report by year's end.

“[The teams] will look at what should be insourced and outsourced, and whether we have the right bundling because we want competition in the market,” Farr said.

ITIL paves the way

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) version 3 is part of the defence arsenal to smooth lines between IT and the business. Deployment has only recently begun; however Farr said it will improve IT alignment, portfolio management and service levels.

Under the changes, which are the DoD's homegrown version of business intelligence according to Farr, IT has pushed ownership back to the business by creating an online job requests list which operates directly off business priorities. Users can log and view job progression over the defence intranet, which Farr said brings improved financial visibility into IT spend.

The department's 10,000 servers housed in more than 500 rooms will be consolidated, standardized and virtualized in the long-term plans that are part of whole-of-government investment and sourcing strategies. Although some of the data centres are “basically a small room with a server rack”, Farr said the efforts will make defence more robust and free up part of the IT department's $650 to $700 million budget for reinvestment in new technology.

The lead-up to 2020 will see extensive network upgrades to terrestrial and satellite communications, which Farr said will underpin a significant role of technology in combat, as well as delivering services across its 120,000 desktops.

“Our network need to be large and robust and able to transport lots of different types of information [to the] front line. Connectivity will be a critical capability to theatre operations,” Farr said.

“We have a lot of management buy-in from defence; it will be a very exciting and rewarding time.”

Farr, a 34-year veteran at the tax office, is confident his experience will be an asset during the transformation.

“Although [the tax office] is not as big as defence, the experience I gained at running the transformation and sourcing and governance programs will help. It shows my age when I keep saying I've seen it before,” he said.

Greg Farr is the opening keynote speaker at the itSMF conference held in Canberra from August 27-29.