While the prospect of military bases being closed has gained the lion’s share of media coverage since the Defence White Paper was published earlier this month, ICT figures as highly in the Paper’s prescription for the New Zealand Defence, as does closing bases and rationalising the Force’s property portfolio.
The White Paper takes a long, critical look at the Defence Force’s IT systems, and proposes a plan over the next five years to overhaul those systems. It goes so far as to say: “Set against benchmarks of other militaries, or the private sector, the New Zealand Defence Force is under-investing in the maintenance and renewal of its ICT”.
A new datacentre, a bigger ICT budget, along with more coordination between the Army, Navy and Air Force on ICT projects are among the initiatives that it states will help generate a more cost-effective Defence Force.
Value for Money is a constant phrase that is used in the Paper, it being the name of the review process that was led by former Telecom CEO Roderick Deane and carried out earlier this year, to look at how the Defence budget could be better spent.
As with many reviews and reforms the current Government has embarked on, the goal of the Paper is to shift resources from back-end functions at the Defence Force to the frontline.
It is clear on this, noting: “Close to 55 percent of the NZDF’s operating costs are incurred in the middle and back, with only 45 percent spent on frontline activities.”
So how is overhauling ICT going to contribute to bottom-line spending at the Defence Force and help generate the extra $350 million in funding for frontline services by 2014 to 2015, which the White Paper is aiming for?
Through an NZDF-wide ICT Strategic Plan, to be managed by an “empowered” CIO, according to the White Paper.
A key aspect of the proposed reforms is ending the present situation in which the three different Services, the Army, Navy and Air Force, embark on certain ICT projects in their own siloed environments.
“The NZDF’s Communications and Information Systems Branch governs, manages, or delivers some ICT projects across the organisation, but a significant number of other projects rest within the single Services, especially where they have a front line focus,” the White Paper notes.
Some ICT contracts are already procured by Defence Shared Services, a joint agency for the three Services; an example is a recent contract for IT security specialist support awarded to AT Security Systems.
However, in other cases, individual Services tender for ICT services. For example, the Navy recently awarded an SAP maintenance contract to ERP specialist Terotek.
The White Paper notes: “There is currently a risk of duplication of purpose and resource on ICT matters, and productivity gains that could be realised by the NZDF as a whole are at risk of being missed.”
This is where the White Paper’s vision of an empowered CIO comes into play.
“To achieve this, all projects will come under the purview of the CIO, whose responsibilities will include vetting any project with an ICT component."
A Defence spokesperson, in response to questions from Computerworld, said Defence Shared Services will be taking a greater role in ICT procurement, "coordinating its approach with CIO and all of Government initiatives."
The White Paper notes: “There will be increased transparency of ICT spending and greater scrutiny of the proposed costs and benefits of any ICT package. The Executive Leadership Team of the NZDF will consider ICT issues on a regular basis.
“Financial resources will be increased for the maintenance of ICT. A capital investment programme, with appropriate risk reduction strategies, will be initiated to ensure ICT infrastructure is refreshed and updated.
“Given the size and budget of the NZDF, off-the-shelf package solutions should be the first choice for all system implementations.”
The new ICT Strategic Plan will be implemented alongside existing ICT initiatives.
“Existing projects to strengthen IT capability in the core NZDF organisational functions of HR and payroll, logistics, and finance will be sustained and accelerated.
“Investment will be required in the short term in order to realise the long-term efficiencies and resource distribution.”
The White Paper also notes that a new datacentre is a priority. In response to questions from Computerword, the Defence spokesperson noted: "A core requirement of the Defence Force is effective protection and uninterrupted provision of our data and information. The White Paper identifies that our current primary datacentre does not meet the Defence Forces operational or business needs in the long term.
"Therefore new premises for our primary datacentre are a high priority. The Defence Force requires two datacentres; a primary, and a backup for disaster recovery and business continuity requirements.
"The primary datacentre location is still to be determined. While the site of the new primary centre has not yet been decided, the secondary will utilise existing facilities at Devonport Naval Base."
Asked about how civilianisation of certain Defence roles, a key recommendation of the White Paper, would be implemented for ICT staff, the spoksesperson replied: "The Defence Force will investigate and make appropriate changes to ICT personnel in accordance with HR Policy. Until this policy is finalised we cannot be confirm exactly what impact this will have on specific civilian or military staff."