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Defence ICT: The right recruits

Defence ICT: The right recruits

CIO Greg Farr is leading defence into a new technology era

The CIOG team supports Australia's Defence personnel

The CIOG team supports Australia's Defence personnel

Could this be one of the most challenging ICT jobs in Australia? Big budgets and huge transformative projects, all conducted under intense media spotlight. Add to that the pressure of finding talented ICT professionals willing to work in your area. Oh, and you can’t pay staff as much as they could get at other places and many will have to shift location.

Even before he took on the role, Greg Farr, CIO of the Department of Defence, knew it would be a balancing act. Speaking with him about how the Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG) is working to overcome those challenges whilst supporting Australia’s armed forces, you realise that he believes it is all worthwhile. “There are not that many organisations that can offer the scale and complexity you get at CIOG,” he says.

When you look at what the group is responsible for, you can understand what he is saying. With an annual departmental spend of around $1.3 billion per year, a significant proportion of which is managed by CIOG in support of Defence operations around the world, the CIOG is one of the largest ICT operations in Australia. The CIOG manages and maintains Defence's fixed and mobile ICT networks of over 6000 servers, eight satellite constellations, three primary domains, multiple data centres, over 100,000 workstations and around 3000 applications.

“CIOG’s role covers everything from ERP, HR and financial systems through to a whole range of support for war fighting,” Farr says.

For CIOG, this is a time of significant change. Aside from transforming its industry engagement from numerous contract-based interactions to fewer, deeper and more strategic partnerships, the CIOG is currently undertaking a number of ambitious projects, including consolidating data centres, creating a next generation desktop environment for Defence users and replacing its huge HR system.

There are not that many organisations that can offer the scale and complexity you get at CIOG

This last project provides an example of the difficulties the group faces and the scale of its efforts. Defence ICT was recently in the press for the wrong reason: mistakes made in the pay packets of military personnel. In rectifying and replacing its ageing and outdated payroll systems, the CIOG will need to deal with what Farr describes as a complex remuneration system taking in various shift arrangements for staff in Australia and those deployed overseas.

The CIOG’s primary location, Canberra, can also hamper efforts to attract staff. “The ICT job market is tight, particularly in Canberra, and it is not getting any better,” Farr says. “We have some difficulty finding project managers who can work on projects of our scale.” Recruitment of systems analysts is also a challenge for the CIOG.


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To help overcome these problems, Farr says the CIOG puts a lot of emphasis on career development. Using SFIA (Skills Framework for the Information Age) as a guide, Defence created a professionalisation and training framework, describing the career pathways ICT professionals in the organisation can take.

“We’re rolling this out now to show people the opportunities,” he says. “We want people who are not just going to come in to do a job. We want people who are interested in trying new things.”

Farr is also looking at the possibility of shifting some operations to regional areas where there is less competition for ICT talent.

This combination of career development and the scale and range of projects undertaken by Defence seems to be working. “Staff retention is not our biggest problem,” Farr said. “Our difficulty is getting the message out that this is an interesting place to work.”

Continuing the work to provide career development opportunities, Farr has made a major commitment to certification. An ACS Certified Professional himself, Farr has taken the decision to pay for CIOG ICT staff to get certified.

CIOG is the ACS’s largest federal government professional partner and its second largest partner nationally, offering a wide range of opportunities to ICT professionals in the government arena.

Farr sees value in the scheme in providing CIOG staff with an avenue to meet with other professionals and access information provided by the ACS.

“It is about continuing development and identifying as a professional. You can see from the fact that I am one myself that I think becoming a Certified Professional is a significant thing.”

During the recruitment process, certification can also help a candidate stand out, Farr says, acknowledging that certification demonstrates professionalism.

According to Farr, certification is also a major step forward for the industry. “In the past we have struggled in the ICT industry to be seen as a professional group. Now we can have the same standing and recognition as other professions.”

If you share Farr’s commitment to professionalism and want to get your teeth into some of the biggest ICT projects in Australia, a job in Defence could be your next career move. You’ll gain exposure to large-scale technology transformations as well as knowing your efforts will help underpin the work done by our Defence personnel here and in other theatres.

Interview courtesy of Information Age

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Tags defenceaustralian computer society (ACS)careersGreg FarrGovernment Defence ICT Strategyskills

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