Adopt open architecture for Defence software, hardware: Review

A landmark review has found that Defence should move away from a proprietary technology footing for its technology estate to reduce complexity and drive down costs while boosting procurement opportunities for smaller industry players.

With a history of vendor lock-in and after repeated project slippages due in part to the department’s smaller ICT leadership team relative to other major agencies, the Defence Strategic Review has found a need to adopt an “open architecture approach”.

“Defence must adopt an open architecture approach in both hardware and software. In doing so, Defence will reduce integration complexity and costs, and break down barriers for Australian industry participation,” an unclassified version of the review said.

Defence minister Richard Marles with Defence Industry minister Pat Conroy and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Image: Defence/Jay Cronan

The recommendation comes as other agencies like Services Australia reconsider the advantages of open-source software with the arrival of the Albanese government to create a distributed, services orientated architecture.

In an open architecture IT infrastructure is based on public specifications. According to analyst firm Gartner, this can include “privately designed architectures, the specifications of which are made public by their designers”.

Adopting such an approach would potentially make future upgrades to Defence system more straight forward and less expensive.

Defence’s ICT estate is currently dominated by vendors like German multinational SAP, which is providing the software for the multi-billion-dollar enterprise resource planning program that began in 2016.

As part of the program, which also involves DXC, Accenture and Deloitte, Defence is replacing around 90 per cent of its existing ERP applications, as well as further 500 applications currently used for finance, logistics, procurement, engineering, maintenance and estate functions.

Defence also continues to be one of the government’s biggest IBM buyer under the whole-of-government agreement, having signed a $192 million contract for “computer services” in December 2022. It is rivalled only by Services Australia.

Last year, Defence’s ICT strategy detailed plans to adopt a “distributed systems architecture” for its single information environment, though the review’s recommendation appear to go further.

In its response to the review, the Albanese government gave “in-principle” agreement to the recommendation – one of the few in the review. Of the 62 recommendations, all but 13 were agreed to in full by the government.

The government is expected to further develop and consider “in-principle” agreements as part of the national Defence Strategy to be released by Q2 2024.

The review has also recommended that Defence “acquire more platforms and capabilities via sole source or off-the-shelf procurement, and limit or eliminate design changes and modifications” across the board.

“Low-complexity projects, such as like-for-like replacements and off-the-shelf acquisitions, are consuming too much time and resources. The default for these should be single source and other measures to streamline approvals and acquisition,” it said.

The review also found the Australian Defence Force is no longer “fully fit for purpose”, flagging greater integration of its five domains – maritime, land, air, space and cyber – and a rebalancing of its workforce.

In CIOG, this is will result in a 60:40 ratio split between APS or ADF staff and contractors, as well as the appointment of a dedicated officials to oversee the development of the secret network and oversee capability management leadership.

“Across CASG, and CIOG, we have seen evidence of contractors managing contractors through several layers of project’s governance structure with inadequate Commonwealth oversight. As a priority, Defence must move away from its current dependence on external service providers for roles that should be done by ADF or APS personnel.” will host a forum on non-kinetic defence and dual-use technology in Adelaide on May 24. You can book your tickets here. will host a one-day forum on non-kinetic defence and dual-use technology in Adelaide on May 24. You can book your tickets here.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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