Australian government brings helpdesk support back in-house

In a trend that will bring little joy to large outsourcers, the Australian federal government is gradually insourcing many of its helpdesk services after enduring years of slow response times, a frustratingly limited understanding of its business needs and questionable value for money.

In a trend that will bring little joy to large outsourcers, the Australian federal government is gradually insourcing many of its helpdesk services after enduring years of slow response times, a frustratingly limited understanding of its business needs and questionable value for money.

Computerworld has learnt that at least a dozen various federal departments, agencies and statutory authorities are currently either engaged in or actively reviewing the return to the fold of the public service of at least some of their IT support functions.

One such agency is the National Native Title Tribunal (or NNTT, part of the Attorney General's Department) which confirmed to Computerworld it had dropped UnisysWest (a Western Australian joint venture between Unisys and BankWest) to bring its helpdesk back in house within the last three months.

The tribunal's move to reclaim its helpdesk came after a strategic review, and subsequent request for tender, of IT services found insourcing was both the most cost-effective and efficient delivery model. The outcome utilises an ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) framework of a HP service desk system for a 190-seat shop.

Other government outsourcing clients toying with the idea of reclaiming support as contracts expire include the Departments of Tourism, Industry and Resources, Prime Minister and Cabinet and most recently the Department of Finance and Administration (DoFA).

A DoFA spokesperson told Computerworld that the examination of any potential insourcing was in line with "normal market testing" the department was undertaking as its contract with IBM GSA heads towards its expiry date of November 2005.

Meanwhile, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) is also understood to be re-evaluating a range of IT options after what one source described as "a series of rather unfortunate experiments."

Documents obtained by Computerworld reveal DEWR ran into substantial problems, following the costly outsourcing of its human resources functions to a firm known as Rengain. These included "payroll services, administration of recruitment, learning and development, HR reporting" and an SAP system upgrade collectively costing some $A8 million — only to see the Rengain put under administration to be liquidated (go broke), with DEWR forced to take back its services to keep operating.

Computerworld understands that DEWR's experiment with HR outsourcing has even seen some IT staff change employers twice in as many years — without even leaving their seats.

Gartner analyst Jim Longwood confirmed the growing trend to return the helpdesk to the bosom of the public sector, saying it best suits organisations with specialised or complex needs.

"In the federal government, (departments) are starting to insource the helpdesk, not just for "fix" solutions, but for business solutions that may be very complex — especially where the intimacy level is very high. One of the dysfunctions we see in outsourcing deals is that there is a transaction mentality: 'they do that, we do this, and never the twain will meet'. Then you run into relationship problems," Longwood said.

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