news The department which runs Australia’s Federal Parliament has published a damning report acknowledging it has widespread problems with IT service delivery and infrastructure, stemming from the fact that it has “no parliament-wide IT strategic plan” and no mechanism for making strategic IT decisions, despite a decade of reports warning of the situation.
The report, entitled ‘Review of Information and Communication Technology for the Parliament’ and available in PDF format, was put together by former public servant Michael Roche and delivered in August 2012. It was released last week by the Department of Parliamentary Services, which oversees the operation of the Federal Parliament, including the Senate, the House of Representatives, politicians’ electorate offices and associated bodies such as the Parliamentary Library.
The report details the fact that the Federal Parliament is a substantial consumer of technology, with close to 5,000 users in Canberra’s Parliament House and located in parliamentarians’ electorate offices. The network contains more than 500 file servers, including in electorate offices, and close to 4,400 desktop PCs and laptops (currently being updated to Windows 7). A wide area network provides services to electorate offices, while total annual expenditure on ICT reaches close to $24 million, with about 105 dedicated IT staff meeting the parliament’s technology needs. However, the report acknowledged that management of that IT infrastructure and resources was not ideal.
“The current governance arrangements covering the delivery of ICT to the Parliament are fragmented and do not cover all aspects of the ICT service delivery life cycle,” the report states. “Notwithstanding the fact that there is a single overarching objective for parliamentary ICT — that is to support the work of the Parliament and its members — there is no one governance body charged with the planning for and co-ordination of ICT across the parliamentary departments.”
“There is no parliament-wide IT strategic plan nor is there any formal mechanism for agreeing, prioritising, resourcing and oversighting such a plan. There is no formal mechanism to ensure that critical and/or strategic ICT decisions are dealt with at the appropriate level. And there is no formal process to ensure that decisions by one parliamentary department do not impact the other departments adversely.”
“There is no Chief Information Officer to provide leadership on ICT issues across Parliament.”
The report stated that the department had in place a set of procedures through which it prioritised projects for delivery, including IT projects, but in the absence of a parliament-wide ICT strategic plan, it was “not possible” to be certain that individual IT projects were aligned with the strategic objectives of the Parliament, or that the selected priorities were appropriate.
The report also details the fact that this has been an issue in the Federal Parliament for more than a decade, with the need for strategic parliament-wide ICT governance being recognised in a similar report produced in 2002, again in 2006, and again in 2008.
“All three reports recommended that the Senior Management Co-ordination Group (SMCG) assume greater responsibility for strategic ICT issues,” last week’s report found. “Notwithstanding the inclusion of provision of strategic guidance on parliamentary ICT requirements in SMCG’s terms of reference in February 2012, ten years on from the original recommendation, the need for parliament-wide ICT governance has increased to the point where a dedicated ICT governance body is justified.”
The report added that there did not appear to be a proactive process of considering emerging technology and its likely impact on parliament, not of conducting a dialogue with parliamentarians and their staff about the issue. Neither was it clear that existing IT projects had considered whole of life costs and support responsibilities.
This lack of strategic IT vision and governance was playing out in a substantial way with respect to the parliamentarians, from all sides of politics, that the department’s IT division serves.
For example, the report noted that there was “considerable frustration” at “delays in adopting new technology, and the inflexibility of the rules covering the provision of much of their ICT capability”. In one highly publicised example, parliamentarians were frustrated about the fact that the parliament had not focused on delivering services through Apple’s popular iPad tablet.
Similarly, parliamentarians were frustrated with the slow process of getting access to iPhones instead of the traditional Blackberry devices, and even at the inability to install third-party applications on their mobile devices. And the speed of the broadband connection to electorate offices — a mere 2Mbps, slower than most Australians are able to achieve through consumer-grade ADSL or HFC cable connections — also came in for complaint.
“Virtually every interviewee mentioned the speed of the electorate office connection as an issue,” the report found. “In some offices it was claimed that the speed of the link was little better than dial-up. There was strong support for the provision of capacity consistent with that commonly available in the area in which the electorate office is located.”
Even shared hard disk space in electorate offices came in for complaint, as did the inability of parliamentarians to access to the Adobe InDesign desktop publishing package in Parliament House (it is available to electorate offices). Furthermore, electorate offices didn’t appear to have wireless connectivity, meaning laptop users might not be able to get access to the parliamentary network without an Ethernet connection. Separately, parliamentarians also complained about the ongoing distribution of some parliamentary papers in hard copy — preferring distribution via tablets and Wi-Fi access instead.
Wider IT infrastructure issues also abounded. For example, the report found that the servers in the central computer room in Parliament House did not have off-site business continuity functionality, although data backups were stored offsite. “It is understood that budgetary considerations precluded the establishment of a second site in Parliament House or offsite,” the report found.
In addition, there are even problems with the corporate systems the Parliament runs, with the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Department of Parliamentary Services itself running separate versions of the TRIM records management system, and different finance systems from vendors such as SAP and Technology One.
“Notwithstanding the commonality of the systems, there are three licensed copies of TRIM, two licensed copies of Finance 1, two licensed copies of Chris21 and a single copy of SAP – all on the one network,” the report stated. “These arrangements are in contrast to the trend for smaller organisations to outsource such systems and the trend in government to consolidate corporate systems at the portfolio level.”
The delivery of the report is not the first time that the Federal Parliament has come under fire for its poor performance in the area of IT service delivery. In December 2010, for example, it was revealed that the Parliament was upgrading to the poorly received Windows Vista operating system instead of the much more highly regarded Windows 7 release. Windows Vista was broadly ignored by all but a few large Australian organisations, with most choosing to keep running the long-lived Windows XP platform instead of upgrading to an operating system which had suffered a problematic development cycle. A number of features promised for Vista didn’t make it into the end release, and reviewers pinioned Microsoft for stability and driver problems in the platform.
In addition, the iPad and iPhone issues have been widely documented in the press over the past several years, as has the Parliament’s long-term struggle to deliver Wi-Fi services to parliamentarians.
The Roche report makes a number of recommendations aimed at resolving the problems — including the appointment of a chief information officer. Eija Seittenranta, formerly a general manager with in the IT division at the Department of Human Services and chief information officer of the Department of Health and Ageing, has been appointed to the role.
The news comes as state governments all around Australia currently appear to be experiencing a systemic inability to deliver major IT projects, and in some cases, basic IT services. In November last year, for example Victoria’s Ombudsman handed down one of the most damning assessments of public sector IT project governance in Australia’s history, noting total cost over-runs of $1.44 billion, extensive delays and a general failure to actually deliver on stated aims in 10 major IT projects carried out by the state over the past half-decade.
Like Queensland, Western Australia has broadly walked away from its unsuccessful IT shared services plan, and in New South Wales in mid-August, a landmark report into the management of the NSW Public Sector commissioned by the state’s new Coalition Government described how dozens of overlapping and competing systems and services providers have created “chaos” when it comes to the state’s current IT shared services paradigm.
However, all of the major eastern seaboard states – Queensland, NSW and Victoria – are currently aware of the issue and attempting to address it through the development and implementation of wide-ranging IT strategic plans. Of the three, NSW currently appears most advanced with its plan; and the state is known to have suffered the least catastrophic IT projects of the three.
Wow. Looks like almost everything that could go wrong here has gone wrong. Australia’s Federal Parliament doesn’t have sufficient business continuity in place, didn’t have a CIO until recently, doesn’t have an IT strategy plan or even a way of making strategic IT decisions, has a cacophony of wasteful duplicated systems, can’t even deliver Wi-Fi to electorate offices (a matter of installing a new router!) or modern broadband and can’t manage its mobile device fleet sufficiently. And it’s still printing out paper documents and distributing them to parliamentarians. In 2012. 2012!!
Previously I had thought issues of basic IT service delivery were largely restricted to Australia’s state governments. But now I see that things in Federal Parliament are also at a 1990’s level. It’s no wonder that many parliamentarians’ staff simply ignore the existing infrastructure and bring in their MacBooks with a 3G connection, using their personal mobile phones to get things done. This is nothing short of a bad joke.
One hopes that the new CIO, Seittenranta — who looks to be a very high level IT executive, normally too high a level for this kind of basic IT service delivery — has been brought in as a pinch-hitter to resolve these issues. Certainly DHS has been run as an extremely tight ship; one hopes Seittenranta will be able to bring things up to speed in a few years at the Federal Parliament as well.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull