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Defence CIO gets strategic in long-term IT makeover

Defence CIO gets strategic in long-term IT makeover

Department has had three CIOs in four years

Late last year Greg Farr, long-serving Australian Tax Office CIO, was poached into what at the time many considered to be the least desirable senior IT job in the country.

Farr was appointed CIO of the Department of Defence (DoD) last October and inherited an IT platform in desperate need of an overhaul.

At least one project, a planned revamp of the payroll and HR system, had stalled in development for over a year.

Fortunately, Farr is not one to shirk from a challenge.

While defence boasts one of the biggest public sector IT budgets in the country, it has also had three CIOs in four years.

Over the next 12 months he plans to redesign the entire IT platform. And that's just one of his goals.

In an exclusive interview with Computerworld, Farr spoke about the difficulties that lie ahead, the high turnover rate of DoD CIOs and the advantages of ITSM.

Farr is well aware of the high turnover rate of CIOs at defence but the department has ensured he will have an unprecedented level of access to higher-echelon staff.

"I'm the first CIO that's actually been on a level that sits on the defence committee or sits at the highest level committees," he said.

That's important, because Farr believes the lack of accessibility suffered by his predecessors may partly explain their conspicuous lack of longevity in the role.

"I think it would be very difficult for someone that wasn't in [my] position to run something as big and complex as defence," he said.

In any event, he stresses he is in for the long-haul.

"I intend to be here for at least five years," he said. "I spent 34 years at the ATO, so I'm not a job-hopper by any means."

Farr believes he has inherited a strong IT team committed the DoD and the wider Australian community.

On the plus side, Farr said the DoD IT team display remarkable problem-solving abilities.

"The way some of the people have taken what they've got and made it work I think is nothing short of astounding. I've shaken my head in disbelief sometimes that they've actually made things work," he said.

The downside is that these problem-solving abilities have evolved in part because the DoD lacks an overarching IT strategy and roadmap - omissions which, on balance, are more detrimental than beneficial.

"Without [an] overall strategy, people are making things up as they go along - because they have to, I'm not being critical of them in any way," he said.

"We need to articulate [a strategy] so we can actually operate on the same page. That way a distributed environment such as the one we're running can actually work."

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