Census debacle: Heads roll at IBM

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James Riley

The two most senior executives running the giant IBM Global Technology Services business in Australia – the service provider behind the 2016 Census debacle – have quietly separated from the company.

InnovationAus.com has been told the executive who ran GTS Australia, and another who ran Infrastructure Services Delivery had “resigned with immediate effect” several weeks ago, in the aftermath of the census night meltdown.

It is understood that senior executives from IBM’s Asia Pacific services business have been brought in to run the IBM operation in the interim while permanent replacements are found.

Malcolm Turnbull famously declared “heads will roll” at a press conference on the day following Census, and to look at the timeline – it seems he got his wish within a couple of weeks.

InnovationAus.com knows the names of the two executives involved, but won’t be publishing them out of respect for the common sense view that failures of this kind have many, many authors.

The fact that IBM moved so quickly to orchestrate a separation of its brand from these two executives is testament to both the size of the Census problem, and to the scale of IBM’s public sector business.

In addition to InnovationAus.com, at least one other media outlet appears to have been given a drop on the IBM details. This is an indicator of how close to finished is the formal review of the Census night problems by the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet.

The Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Alastair MacGibbon – who is within PM&C – is leading the review of events that lead to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ decision to close the eCensus to the public on the evening of August 9.

“The review is still in progress and will be completed shortly,” a PM&C spokesperson said. The release of MacGibbon’s report, its findings and its recommendations – including the timing of any such release – remains a matter for government. And right now they’re not saying.

The government won’t say whether any Census personnel who worked on the IT side of the Census project have been moved or stood-down. It would be manifestly unfair if they had, if only because the review is not yet complete.

Malcolm’s demand for heads was quickly complied with on the corporate side of the messy Census equation. (IBM would not comment for this story.) But the Australian Public Service should resist these demands.

Census night was an embarrassing, humiliating look. But the debacle was symptomatic a much bigger problem across the whole of government. This is an administration that is for the next several years very much in transition.

This does not mean Australians should reluctantly accept the poor and costly services delivered by government’s out-moded technology infrastructure, systems and processes.

But it does mean that there is a difficult and expensive period of transformation ahead.

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