'Missing' laptops stir invoicing concerns

With only weeks remaining in its five-year services contract with IBM Global Services, the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) has refuted claims it has been charged by the outsourcer for up to 100 missing laptops.

The claims surfaced amid revelations the department was still paying hefty leasing fees to IBM for laptops that were missing in action.

The department's five-year contract with IBM expires in July 2005 with an option to extend the deal through to 2009.

However, the DoHA rejected claims the laptops were lost, claiming they will be accounted for in "due course" and the problem had more to do with record keeping and asset management.

A department spokersperson said the hardware has temporarily gone astray due to issues surrounding the interoperability of its accounting and billing systems and those of IBM's.

The spokesperson said because IT asset reconciliations were done on a monthly basis, "these adjustments may take more than one billing cycle to investigate and filter through the system".

But the DoHA spokesperson admitted the department had been charged in its April invoice for some lost, stolen and damaged laptops.

"However, the mistake was discovered and IBM was raising a credit to [adjust]," she said.

"Laptops are by their nature very portable and many will be out on location at the time of any stocktake it is not true that these laptops have been paid for unnecessarily, for an extended period."

However, whether some of DoHA's wandering laptop fleet may have been redeployed as doorstops or bookends is an interesting question based on the vintage of the current fleet.

Rejecting internal claims many of the machines are "unusable" the DoHA spokesperson said a "large portion of the laptop fleet still has the older NT operating system [and] they continue to be used as stand-alone devices not connected to the department's network. The may be used, she said, "as pooled devices for occasional working from home, travel or for giving presentations. IBM is currently refreshing eligible laptops as per its contract", she said.

IBM was unwilling to comment.

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