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Defence CIO: Information management the key to Australia’s future war capability

by Chris Huckstepp •
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Australia’s future war capability will be dependent on the interoperability of its ICT systems and its ability to manage growing volumes of information, said Department of Defence CIO Peter Lawrence to the Technology in Government Summit on 5 August 2015.

He said that the next generation of war fighters requires secure, robust and reliable technology that provides capability to the end user “anytime and anywhere”, and that the agency is working to overcome a number of challenges to meeting these requirements. Challenges include the rising volumes of data, legacy ICT systems, the unique needs of operating in hostile environments, and the requirement to interoperate with foreign states.

Lawrence said that much effort will be put into information management by Defence over the next couple of years due to rapidly multiplying data sources.

For example, over 100GB of data will be uploaded by the new F35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) on landing at base – data that needs to be stored and exploited quickly under hostile and difficult circumstances. He noted that the luxury of managing data centre temperatures does not extend to harsh combat zones.

Information management has previously been identified as a priority by the First Principles Review of Defence, released in April 2015. The review found that “information management is a critical enabler … [but] it is apparent that current practices are materially impeding operational effectiveness and efficiency”.

“There has been a lack of effective governance and control which has led to siloed solutions”, said the report. It recommended that the CIO be responsible for implementing the enterprise information management agenda, authorising all information management expenditure as part of the planning cycle, and be given ‘red card’ decision rights – that is, the mandate to stop projects that do not comply with interoperability standards.

The First Principles Review’s ‘One Defence’ business model aims to implement an enterprise approach to the delivery of corporate and military enabling services.

Lawrence told the Technology in Government Summit that he is working to integrate legacy ERP systems. The recent $86 million contract with SAP will enable the department to meet its increasing need for systems to be available both on deployment and inside the office. Lawrence said that field availability of corporate systems was necessary to improve staff decision making at all stages. 

Defence makes use of roughly 2500 applications, including 300 financial applications, according to Lawrence.

Systems interoperability with foreign powers – including the Unites States, New Zealand, and the Netherlands – is also a critical concern for the department. Having robust identity verification systems for users, and the development of common standards, are therefore extremely important when aiding in interoperability. He said that getting the basics of identity management right will also assist with achieving field mobility.

However the number one concern of Defence is security – “it pervades everything we do”, he said. The most significant risk to the department is the insider risk, as exposed by events like the Edward Snowden leaks. 

Lawrence also said that Defence is undergoing a digital transformation and is trying to be more agile, while recognising that unique large scale engineering projects such as the ones undertaken by the department can take numerous years. He said that, as a result of the complexity in play, the department was seeking to deliver projects in smaller pieces – “like a jigsaw”.

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