Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 00:44 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 00:44 | SYDNEY

Defence jointery and open IT


Graeme Dobell

29 March 2010 13:46

Last Friday I was flicking to the back of the Financial Review to find the weekly Verona Burgess column on the public service. On the way, I paused on the Information page to read a piece headlined 'Soldiers losing strategic advantage' (subscription needed). The opening sentence talked about the outdated and disjointed state of the computer systems used by Australia's military.

Defence's chief technology officer, Matt Yannopoulos, was being interviewed about the Defence habit over decades of buying incompatible systems. How do you do network-centric warfare when the nets won't work together?

To illustrate, Yannopoulos offered a few anecdotes. In the Middle East, ADF personnel  sometimes cannot share emails with other ADF personnel sitting in the same tent. At the brand new, ultra-modern Joint Operations HQ outside Canberra, the chief is not able to immediately determine how many troops are deployed to an operational theatre. He has someone go away and count, Yannopoulos told the Fin Review.

And  the people running Defences logistics are still resorting to paper and good old Microsoft Excel, despite having 315 structured applications at their disposal.*

The standout quote from the chief technology officer was this:

Defence still spends hundreds of millions of dollars on systems integration because we have not been strong enough with our vendors to say, No, you will comply to some open standards.

Strong enough with the vendors! How about being strong enough with the various different parts of the military machine that still wear blue, white and khaki? Or even some of those it black suits (dress or slacks optional)?

Someone in The Interpreter universe can probably put a date to the moment that the ADF started talking about 'jointery'. My memory is that the jointery mantra of joining the three services together first became motto-of-the-moment in the early 1990s. So, jointery in its modern manifestation started being preached about the same time as the web age (now 25 years old) was starting to toddle. Jointery and open systems surely are two concepts made for each other. 

Buzz phrases and organisational mantras can be embedded into every document and speech, but it doesn't always translate into the hardware or the lives of the military. It says much for the adaptability and spirit of Australia's defence  types — uniform and civilian — that they still achieve so much, and even talk to each other sometimes, despite their 4000 computer applications.

Photo by Flickr user Julio Martinez, used under a Creative Commons license.

* Ed note: Originally, the Yannopolous anecdotes Graeme refers to here were shown as direct quotes. They are in fact Graeme's paraphrasing of the Financial Review article about Yannopolos, not direct quotes from the piece.