How would you like to be responsible for bringing together hundreds of disparate WANs, perhaps thousands of LANs with very poor connectivity and untold numbers of stovepiped systems across eight entirely different organisations? And how would you feel if those organisations had at their disposal huge budgets for IT for which they had little accountability, to the extent where they no longer even knew how many systems they actually ran? Now add to this unenviable mix that at least half the staff allocated to help you bring those systems together reported to you on IT matters, but also had other major responsibilities for which they were answerable to someone else.
That, effectively, is the situation facing the new Australian Defence Force Corporate Information Program (CIP) CIO Phil Huntley, who's probably got the toughest CIO's job in the country right now, and who's not even an IT man by training. Indeed for the last 10 years Huntley's been heading up the Defence financial management function, where he was responsible for financial and accounting policy, the large financial systems and financial training. Some 18 months ago, after Defence set up an Information Management Board, he also became CIO for the Budget Management Program, spending about a quarter of his time on that function.
However, since May, in the wake of the Defence Efficiency Review (DER) and as part of the Defence Reform Program, Huntley's taken on a far broader role. As head of the Corporate Information Program based in Canberra, he's been tasked with achieving corporate-wide information management. And that means somehow bringing together the formerly independent systems from what used to be eight very large and very different Defence programs: Army, Navy, Air Force, Headquarters, Budget & Management, Acquisition, Strategy & Intelligence and Science. And that's no mean task, as the DER itself made clear.
"The DER, in trying to do its work, had great difficulty getting information out of this organisation on which to base some judgements about how it might improve the organisation. There were eight different programs - four military and four civilian - and within those programs there was some connectivity between computers, but not much," Huntley says.
"They had all developed their systems independently, especially since program management and budgeting was introduced in the early 1990s, where each of those program managers had a budget allocated to them and then were basically left to get on and achieve their targets," he adds. "People didn't interfere in what they spent their budget on; there was no information management board. And while there was a group who attempted to articulate corporate policy to go across the top, it wasn't enforced, so you had eight programs basically at the mercy of industry.
"And there were endless stovepipes, and a significant ability to spend a lot of money on computing. We ended up with a situation where when the DER needed information it would get eight responses, and that information was not consistent across the responses. So one of the clear messages into the DER was that this organisation has got a problem in managing its information at the corporate level."It's Huntley's job to change all that, beginning with setting some corporate information management policies, standards and architectures and moving on to managing networks and large systems corporately to achieve common data input to systems so that common information can come out. "I started on this in early May, basically by myself, just conceptualising and talking to people about what they thought this program ought to do. Then, on July first, people started to drift in and since then we've been gradually forming the program," he explains.
But Huntley faces an extra challenge few other CIOs have to deal with. Directly reporting to him are Brigadier Mike Swan, Colonel Gary Allan and Captain Mike Webster, and working under them are many hundreds of military personnel. In fact, at least 50 per cent of the 1200 people so far assigned to work within CIP are military personnel, most of them working on military bases outside of Canberra. No stranger to the military side of Defence (he was Chief Financial Adviser to the Chief of the Air Force for some four years back in the mid-eighties), Huntley says the arrangement has both its good and bad points.
For one thing, he finds military personnel far more results-oriented than civilians, who are more likely to weigh all the pros and cons before adopting a balanced judgement to issues.
"I guess it's a 'can do' attitude - 'Let's get on and do it'. They're very quick to form an objective. They have a very clear idea of what it is they want to do and they want to get on and do it very quickly," he says.
"I think I'm fortunate that in forming Corporate Information Program I've actually gathered together a group of people who have excellent technical skills in what they do. They are skills that I don't have, but what I bring to the program, and what the other civilians bring to the program, are other skills that balance those in terms of making the program a whole operational entity. So we bring budgeting knowledge, human resource knowledge, industrial relations knowledge, to balance the technical knowledge that the military bring."As if dealing with both civilian and military personnel wasn't tricky enough, there are the issues of who "owns" the staff and who manages and commands them.
"As an example, prior to the first of July, you had on an Air Force Base an Air Base Wing which did all the support functions for the Air Base. Now all of a sudden you've got a breaking up of that Air Base Wing - which was under command of the Commander - into people who work on corporate information, people who work on corporate support and people who work on Defence estate. There was some resistance to that, because as you can appreciate, it makes life difficult out there in the field.
"Here we are sitting here in Canberra with some theoretical ideas about management structures, but you actually need to go out in the field and test them. I don't think anyone's saying now that we've got it right; it's going to evolve over time. At the moment the decision is that basically the communications and information systems people out on military bases should be part of the Corporate Information Program, so I actually "own" them. They will be responsible to Gary Allan, and to Mike Webster on the communications side, but responsive to the Commander. In terms of the military functions, like parades, they would take their orders from the Base Commander, not from Gary Allan. In the case of bushfires or some other national emergency, the Commander of the base has to have the ability to deploy them."In these early days, specific targets have yet to be levied on CIP in terms of the efficiencies and economies it will be expected to make. Some broad targets were set as part of the efficiency review, and Huntley says over time he hopes to significantly better them. But his is not a job where milestones can be met in any kind of hurry. "Some of the efficiencies won't become apparent even for three to four years - by the time you consolidate and rationalise, and then you think about market testing some of that stuff." In the interim, and perhaps surprisingly in a world where fewer is frequently better, DER has at least temporarily bought the number of programs up from eight to 14, all in the name of efficiency.
"The idea is to try to focus on the cost of support to the Defence force by, in the first instance, breaking the organisation up into sizeable chunks and then trying to identify the cost," says Huntley. "They set up these support organisations to identify the costs and make them visible. Then we can set about consolidating, rationalising and market testing where possible to reduce that support cost so it can be redirected into the sharp end of the organisation. I would expect over time the number of programs would probably reduce. That you will see a merging of some of these support organisations once you've gone through that rationalisation process."Naturally one of biggest challenges CIP faces is to somehow bring together the vast number of LANs sprinkled across every corner of the country, none of them talking to each other and supplied by a multitude of vendors. "We're facing this issue right now in Canberra, and Canberra was a particular issue for the efficiency review," says Huntley. "There are something in excess of 100 LANs running in the Canberra region alone, developed by these independent programs to serve their own needs. The connectivity between those LANs is not very high.
Even within a single program there are LANs that don't talk to each other. And this is a microcosm replicated around the country.
"That contrasts with the Wide Area Network in Canberra, which is run by the Communications Group and which has already been consolidated and rationalised through DSDN (Defence Switched Data Network). Now the LANs in Canberra, the LANs out on military bases, all need to be bought together. And there are also WANs everywhere too." But rationalising networks and systems outside of the Canberra region is also complicated by the fact that there is no corporate inventory of infrastructure networks, applications or systems. Studies are under way in each of the States to rectify this, and Defence hopes this will also address another goal, that of giving the Defence Department a far clearer idea of the cost of its information. Once the inventory is completed, Huntley and his team will try to decide which of those systems currently running comprise best practice. While Huntley concedes there are vested interests in every program keen to see their particular systems accepted as best practice, he says there is also an "enormous amount" of goodwill at every level eager to take this unique opportunity to make an enormous improvement in Defence information management.
And he is determined to keep that goodwill, particularly during the transition to new networks and systems.
"My primary priority in all of this is that the systems that are currently running are not degraded. There is an enormous risk that while you go through all of this change the level of service that people are getting could decline, and we can't afford to do that. So the top priority is to make sure that the services that people are used to, continue while we go through this change process," says Huntley.
"We'll achieve that by a lot of discussion and negotiating and liaison. For example I have just been down to Melbourne to talk to the Chief of Army's advisory committee. The aim is to just continue to keep the dialogue open between people, letting them know we need to be aware pretty quickly if there is a degradation of service so that we can get in there and fix it fast."In the Army, Navy and Air Force, already extant network management agencies will be responsible for maintaining service levels while networks are consolidated.
While the ultimate aim is a single homogenous network, at this stage Huntley says it is impossible to predict just when this will happen. For a start, there are no guarantees the budget will be there at any particular point in time to achieve it. Indeed, Huntley says he'll have to fight for his budget just like any other program manager, although the efficiency review did make the "powers-that-be" aware that it might require some level of up-front investment to achieve savings in the longer term.
But with Defence facing a huge Year 2000 liability, and a recognition even at the highest government level that the department might need to divert resources towards fixing that problem, some aspects of rationalisation and consolidation may just have to wait. There are also other priorities, like the need to rationalise the plethora of archaic human resource and payroll systems and the "very aged financial system" Huntley suspects won't be able to cope with accrual accounting at the turn of the century.
Currently SAP, PeopleSoft and Mincom, all companies on the Office of Government Information Technology (OGIT) endorsed HR supplier panel, are contending to win the HR system business. Defence could have gone out to tender in its own right, to find a system which would more closely reflect its existing HR processes, but CIP decided it was more efficient to go with OGIT's standing contract for HR systems and adjust the processes to suit the application.
"The next one that we'll confront will be the financials, considering again whether we use the OGIT panel or try to seek an exemption," says Huntley. And of course those systems will have to be rolled out to every base, replacing the separate systems currently in use within each service. "We're going to have one HR system and there is going to be change as we blend processes together and roll it right out - simultaneously with forming the CIP, setting up new structures and retraining people. It is a phenomenal transformation," says Huntley.
"There are other issues," he adds. "We currently are running a standard Defence supply system which is Mincom-based. There are many tens of other logistic systems developed by the single services to suit a particular requirement. The issue - and I work in conjunction with the Commander, Support General Mueller down in Melbourne who has all of these little systems underneath him - is what do we do with all of these little systems? Many of them won't be 2000 compliant. Some of them should blend into the corporate supply and logistics system, some of them may continue on as stand-alone products. That is a long-term process which is going on right now and will continue for five years or more."While all this transformation is going on, Huntley knows he must be sensitive to the issue of system owners whose natural desire is to promote use of their own systems. "With the system owners, I think the worst thing I could do would be to sit up here like Pontius Pilate and dictate to users that they must do something. Frankly they know better what they need than I do.
"So Support General Mueller is setting up a logistics systems agency in Melbourne to support all these tens of little systems that he's got running and like me, trying to bring them together, and to consolidate and rationalise them. My people will be part of that process and there is an ongoing dialogue between General Mueller and myself," says Huntley.
While that work goes on, Huntley is looking at providing software to span across HR, financials and the improved logistics systems to allow delivery of key information to Ministers and Commanders in the field. To this end, CIP is experimenting with data warehousing and has just successfully completed a small pilot. Its future is uncertain in the long term. "Whether data warehousing is the final solution I don't know, but it's certainly giving people some of the information that they couldn't get in the past.
"I suspect even just buying an off-the-shelf product for the HR system would significantly improve the ability to get information out anyway - compared to the in-house developed 1960s model that we've got now," says Huntley.
It's just one more thing to worry about, in the long list of considerations facing Huntley as Defence tries to ensure its future into the next century, without the baggage of an uncoordinated past. v
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