The opening plenary of the annual Military Communications and Information Systems Conference in Canberra this week included a number of high profile speakers from Defence and industry outlining the current state of play in the defence ICT space; common themes were the constant struggle to keep up with the ever quickening pace of technology advances within constraints posed by limited budgets and the challenge of building and maintaining a skilled ICT workforce.
Acting Chief Information Officer Mohan Aiyaswami said the Integrated Investment Plan had allowed for ICT integration to be coordinated with military planners more effectively.
“What we don’t want is for ICT to go at a particular speed in a particular direction while defence military capabiltiies are going at a different speed in a different direction.”
The core focus focus for the next 12 months was to ensure the organisation was a Single Information Environment (SIE).
“What this means is to have everything from our strategic to the deployed and disconnected systems incorporated within one single information environment.”
Aiyaswami promised big changes into how deployed and disconnected systems were integrated; they would no longer be “bolted on as an afterthought” but built into the environment at the design stage.
Assistant Secretary ICT Architecture Peter Corcoran stressed that it all boiled down to command and control (C²) while listing the many challenges Defence ICT architectures were faced with.
"What are the critical needs of the commander and his war fighters to make their call? What are the needs of the systems to support those decisions?"
A key challenge was being able to cope in environments that were increasingly more complex, contested and congested.
"We know how to manage when we are info rich and when we are info poor but we are challenged during the transition between those environments, and this is increasingly happening at a faster pace," Corcoran said.
Information needed to be prioritised and sent in the appropriate bandwidth and latency – “information can overload the human, you can be so flooded with information you don't know what decision to make”.
Corcoran said the bureaucracy was hamstrung by standards which were no longer keeping pace with the technological change.
However he said the recent Jericho Dawn exercise was a positive example how things were changing and the Army and Air Force Chiefs’ positive remarks following the exercise had been a rare but increasingly common instance of senior leaders in Defence talking quite openly and positively about information systems.
“Communications Information Systems (CIS) are an amazing enabling capability, used well they can give great advantage to the war fighter. Used poorly, and they will add to the confusion and drown our people in the data problem we have in the landscape.”
Head ICT Operations (HICTO) Air Vice Marshal Andrew Dowse made his last MilCIS appearance prior to taking up a new role commencing next year (see Defence Week 469 People on the Move). A big priority for new HICTO Rear Admiral Mick Rothwell would be keeping the ICT environment updated. AVM Dowse benchmarked the division's performance against the ten challenges he had outlined upon stepping up to the role. These were: Minimise disruption from change; Integrated ICT services; Managing ICT services; Achieving situational awareness; Maturing sustainment; Strategic sourcing; Integrate the environments; Improve ICT security; and ICT workforce.
Progress had been good in the area of streamlining change processes. “We have learnt our lessons, but still have difficulty understanding what is a true risk of a change and what is something we can live with.”
AVM Dowse said more investment was needed in training of Commonwealth staff in business acumen along with a refinement of accountabilities.
“So we don't keep stumbling over each other, including us telling the service providers how to do their job – but we do need to hold them to account and have enough expertise to be dangerous.”
There had been some improvement in identifying end of life issues in the planning regime and the reduced capacity to fund end of life upgrades meant increased obsolescence.
“We need to convince people that the speed of technology is too fast for our processes, particularly our capital processes, and we need to build a case for adjusting the balance between our capital and operating budgets in the delivery of ICT.”
Efforts to improve the ICT workforce have been particularly challenging, “particularly here in Canberra where there is a lot of competition – what we find despite all of those good efforts is that there are still pockets of people who don't have the right skills for what they need to do”. AVM Dowse suggested more work was needed on developing defence ICT career pathways and the consideration of staff working from locations that were external to Canberra.
“I have cast a bit of negativity but as my staff know I am a hard marker; I do think there are some positives; I do think we are heading in the right direction, especially when you consider how complex our environment is, and the financial difficulties we've had.”