Defence chief says conceptual mistakes to blame for overruns

In the face of harsh criticism from the Federal Opposition, Department of Defence CIO Patrick Hannan admits there have been mistakes at conception of IT projects that have lead to them running late and over budget.

"Some of the projects that got headlines were poorly implemented at inception," Hannan told Computerworld.

He is referring to a $45 million budget blowout for a three-year overdue human resources IT project, revealed at an Estimates Hearing for the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Senate earlier this year. The blowout has received a lot of negative press for the Defence Department lately. According to transcripts from the Estimates Hearing, the project was originally a $25 million contract and is now three years overdue.

"It's bizarre that [the department] thought it could have [implemented the project] with the original planning," Hannan said. "It's an extraordinarily complex system that is being implemented. A single personnel management system for all departments is a significant achievement and I can't imagine what original parameters [the department] had that it thought could have been done at that price."

In order to stop this kind of blowout happening again, Hannan said he is committed to improving up-front risk analysis.

"Finding the business and cultural change [that an IT project will cause] is a critical component up front," he said.

To that end, he believes Defence's move to merge the divisions of the chief information officer (CIO) and the head of knowledge systems (HKS) will reduce incidents of projects running over time and budget, as it leads to better management of the department's information and planning capability.

In his first interview since the divisions merged, Hannan said it will bring a capacity to plan more coherently for the total military and civilian system.

"Information management is not just about computers and hardware -- it is about being part of the shaping of the strategic policy direction of the organisation. Nowadays the distance between business and military is blurred and the merging of CIO and HKS reflects that maturing.

"The division will work on a raft of projects. Just about every project has an information component that has to be managed."

Hannan said the new division would be freed up to focus specifically on strategy and management issues, rather than divvying up its energy between strategy and project building. According to Hannan, the new division has already moved "further up the chain" within Defence.

"It's about using the same staff better and improving the outcome by better focusing people. People who are doing strategic planning and working on projects now do one or the other - not both," he said.

"It's very much about making all parts of organisation contribute rather than detract from efficiencies."

In a shuffle of resources, Hannan is in the process of whittling down his team of 130 to a "dream team" of 50 to 60, which will be a mix of military and civilian personnel. The rest will move to focus on projects or capability planning by November.

At the time of Hannan's appointment as CIO in June last year, Admiral Chris Barrie said senior Defence managers thought the department lacked overall discipline in IT and information management.

Today, in Defence's large, highly decentralised department with a diverse IT environment, Hannan told Computerworld that he is in the middle of a long program of reform to turn this attitude around.

This new division is one step in the process. Hannan believes information and strategy, more than anything, is at the heart of everything the Department of Defence does. Therefore this centralised approach to the management of information is the next stage of a long-term approach to developing information as a true capability within Defence.

In this way, Hannan said, he deals with issues no different to those facing CIOs in any other industry: information management, strategy, and future war tactics (in the boardroom).

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