A six-week investigation by Computerworld into IT support levels at the Department of Defence has led to the department's CIO admitting the problem exists, but is improving, during a recent Senate committee hearing in Canberra.
During the hearing, opposition spokesperson for Defence, Senator Mark Bishop quizzed Defence CIO Air Vice-Marshal John Monaghan on IT services and outsourcing.
"I would like to discuss some detail that was contained in a recent press report in Computerworld Australia. What is the status of IT support at Defence?" Bishop said. "Is it true as alleged in the article that there is a backlog of 6000 requests which are taking up to a month to process?"
To this Monaghan said the data that was presented in the article was provided not by Defence, but "by somebody who had access to Defence data, and it was accurate for part of the services that we deliver".
"The backlog has in fact reduced a little since then, by in the order of 1000," Monaghan said, adding that the backlog is not related to any of the services delivered by outsourcer Kaz but by services delivered by regional IT departments.
"Those regional IT departments had been under some pressure because of a major rollout of upgrades to our systems and, once those systems had rolled out, those regional staff have been able to get on with reducing the backlogs and providing a better service."
Computerworld first reported the IT support problems at Defence in August when Defence employees pointed the finger at Kaz for delivering "abysmal" computer support.
In contrast to Monaghan's admission during the committee hearing last month, a Defence spokesperson had told Computerworld in August "performance has already improved and Defence expects to return to 'business as usual' for service standards by September."
A global upgrade to Windows XP has always been cited by Defence as the cause of the support problems, and not Kaz's performance.
The backlog is now "in the order of" 5000 but at the time of the hearing Monaghan was still waiting for the end-of-month figures.
Monaghan said Defence considers "less than 10 jobs outstanding per hundred customers" is considered to be an acceptable level of backlog, but with some 80,000 accounts, he does not believe between 5000 and 6000 requests is acceptable.
"If we divide ourselves up into something like eight or nine regions, now that our upgrades have rolled through most of those regions, all but three of those regions are now within the target," Monaghan said. "The ACT, which is currently going through the upgrade process, has a substantially larger backlog than that and, as soon as the system stabilizes, with help from industry, the staff will get on and roll those back."
Senator Bishop then asked what was the backlog in the ACT and Monaghan said "in the order of 5000", which is at about 30 per hundred users.
Monaghan claimed a number of causes for this backlog in the ACT, one being the difficulty of retaining IT staff within Defence and "therefore they are under pressure".
"Primarily what we have done is diverted the attention of those staff from delivering standard support to supporting the rollout of the new systems," he said. "We are getting close to completing that program. As soon as we do, they will be turning their full attention to reducing the backlog to a reasonable level."
Defence expects to see the backlog "vastly improved" by the start of business next year.
When asked by Bishop whether it is the intent of Defence to award a total contract for IT support to Kaz or is it the current intent of Defence to maintain the difference, Monaghan said there is a process underway to outsource regional IT support.
Bishop also asked if all Defence's IT support will be outsourced.
"Within the contract for the regional ICT support, yes, and we have the amount of ICT support that we currently have outsourced in the central office, so we do not intend to increase that," Monaghan said.