• MILIS is responsible for large parts of the ADF's logistics management systems. Credit: Defence
    MILIS is responsible for large parts of the ADF's logistics management systems. Credit: Defence

Despite warnings from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) that the Military Integrated Logistics Information System (MILIS) has been increasingly unsupportable for the past five years, ADM understands that the system is to operate for up to another five years at a much higher level of risk.

MILIS is based on a piece of software called Ellipse, a purpose-built EAM and enterprise resource planning solution built by ABB (previously Mincom). Defence has been using version 6.8 of Ellipse under JP 2077 Phase 2B. Many commercial customers of Ellipse are now operating version 8 or 9, well beyond the version currently in use by Defence.

As such, ABB will no longer be supporting the version of Ellipse that MILIS is based on. This decision was made at a global level as the business felt it was unable to support legacy software more than 30 years after its initial development. This move was made apparent in Australia now that the company no longer has a Defence sector lead in-country and has continually reduced the defence Ellipse development team in the past 12 months. 

It is understood that one of the key drivers for the ABB decision was the decision by Adobe to cease support of its Flash software in 2020. Given the use of Flash as underlying software within a number of legacy Defence platforms (CAMM2, the ICT core behind aviation logistics and maintenance being the most notable example) this issue will stretch much further than just MILIS.

ABB was approached for this article but declined to provide comment on the program. ADM, however, has obtained a copy of a 2016 discussion paper that ABB released to Defence and industry partners as the department’s Chief Information Officer Group sought to chart a path ahead in the wake of the news.

When an upgrade of MILIS was explored as part of the wider ERP/EIM program to keep the system running until the new Whole of Government SAP solution was in place throughout government in the early 2020s, ABB made a long list of risks that would need to be addressed.

Quoting directly from the ABB report: “At present this projects program has the last part of Ellipse 6.8 being decommissioned in the 2024/25 timeframe. ABB is currently contracted to support the current version of Ellipse 6.8 until late 2020. It is unlikely that ABB will support the current version of Ellipse beyond this date. Contractually ABB is not obliged to formally inform Defence of any decision in this regard until 2020.”

ADM understands that ABB formally notified Defence late last year that it will not supporting MILIS past 2020 for the reasons listed above.

When Defence was questioned about the future of the program that runs logistics for the ADF, Defence provided the following statement in two parts over successive days.

“MILIS will not be decommissioned at the end of 2020. The system will remain in place until the functionality is replaced by SAP,” a Defence spokesperson initially said. “Defence commissioned an industry assessment of MILIS to determine its sustainability.

The assessment found that the system is currently stable and can be sustained beyond 2020. There are a number of service providers with experience supporting legacy systems that Defence will draw on to ensure MILIS is sustained until it is decommissioned.”

Industry sources close to the program have confirmed that the MILIS environment can operate beyond 2020 ‘as long as nothing is changed’, likening the system to a house of cards that is likely to tumble ‘if someone even looks at it wrong’.

Replacement of MILIS is being conducted under the multi-billion dollar ERP/EIM program (enterprise resource management/enterprise information management). The CIOG-run program has gone through a number of planning iterations based on internal budget movements, various industry engagements and some extremely long delays in government approvals.

“The SAP-based Defence enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution will offer significant improvements in functionality and process optimisation over the existing human resources, logistics, financial, engineering and maintenance applications used in Defence, including MILIS,” the Defence statement said. “It will also enable a level of integration across those functions that is not currently available to Defence, and has proven capability to operate in deployed and disconnected environments.

“The Department’s transition to SAP will be carefully planned to ensure that there is no loss of capability over the transition period.”

Less than a day later, Defence updated the ERP/EIM timeline when further questioned by ADM.

“The Defence ERP solution based on SAP technology is planned for implementation during the financial year 2022-23. Defence has developed a range of risk mitigation strategies to ensure that MILIS is sustained until the replacement capability is rolled out, minimising the likelihood of any operational impact.”

There is also a question of ERP/EIM leadership on the CIOG front as former program lead Air Vice Marshal Peter Yates left his contract barely half way through its five-year term, commenting that “a revised ERP program management structure has been developed and an industry expert will join Defence within this new structure.”

ADM understands that industry has received no formal update as to the timing and scope of the ERP/EIM programs since the program received Gate 2 approval from government last year, with the selection of partner with up to two systems integrators seemingly in limbo. The program is now looking to offer capability in a different sequence and much later than proposed to government at Gate 2.

ADM comment: What this all means is that the logistics backbone of the ADF is run on a program written in a language that no one now uses. The OEM has walked away from the program, and have been warning Defence of the risks related to the system for well over five years. CIOG literally has nobody leading its biggest program and hasn’t for months. Having said that, a new program office structure is to be in place this month, Defence confirmed in the same statement.

The lack of public information on one of the Australian government’s biggest ICT programs is also startling. The program does not rate a mention in the Budget papers, Defence Annual Report or ANAO’s Major Program Reports despite a listed value of between $1-2 billion.

When former Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne launched the 2016 White Paper and its related documents, the tongue in cheek description of Defence IT as ‘retro’ was fitting. While many of the systems have come a long way since that time, there are still huge pockets of retro issues that will not be easily solved. The huge integrated nature of the system means that any replacement will have to deal with these interdependencies at an organisation-wide level, ensuring that capability can still be delivered during transition.

Defence says it is trying to do that. But ignoring the dying canary in the mine is not a strategy that shows much promise.

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