Department defends IT performance against auditor

The chief information officer of the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) has hit back at criticism by a recent Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report claiming the beancounter’s report uses foggy language, fails to adequately differentiate between information technology systems and business processes and failed to understand the nature of key implementations.

Cheryl Hannah, CIO of DIMIA’s business solutions group, said: “The use of the word ‘systems’ in the ANAO report didn’t make a clear distinction about when they meant business process and when they meant IT systems themselves. We’ve expressed that disappointment to the ANAO to make it clear that we felt that was a problem with the report.”

Computerworld has since learnt that ANAO took around a year to examine the “Management of Selected Aspects of the Family Migration Program” at DIMIA, at the end of which Hannah says ANAO staff were still having trouble coming to grips with the complexities of DIMIA’s IT systems.

“Even at the end of that time, we were not sure that (ANAO) understood the degree of complexity, and they acknowledged that themselves.

“They did concede that the systems are very hard to come to grips with if you are not part of their development or a part of that system. The visa class that the ANAO referred to was one of many visa classes and a very small percentage, overall, of our work. When you look at their recommendations they are unremarkable – they are not the sort of things that anyone would dispute,” Hannah said.

The ANAO report recommended that data integrity checking measures be put in place, a fairly standard facility for any data warehouse. DIMIA says its IT systems supported around four million decisions for 2002/2003 of which the Family Migration Program represented 86,000 – or around 2.15 percent, while around 16 million people movements were supported. The department has some 4500 users located throughout Australia and overseas.

Another aspect of the ANAO report that has clearly ruffled senior feathers was the audit office’s assertion that users were being forced into developing their own databases in Access due to limitations of the mainframe backend upon which the department’s onshore Integrated Client Services Environment (ICSE) system sits.

Hannah counters that ANAO failed to recognize that DIMIA’s new data warehouse (internally dubbed Offspring) was progressively being put online at the time of audit and that Offspring was purpose-built over three years to address the very reporting requirements ANAO says are lacking in the Family Migration Program: “It was a little unfair given the range of things that we do support. Particularly the aspect dealing with the proliferation of Access databases, because they were told – and in fact acknowledged, that we were about to bring Offspring online. But they didn’t seem to understand the importance of that…that the (data) warehouse would (then) be able to provide the data that staff needed to report against.

“The criticism was a little unfair because we had already made significant effort to put something in place that would replace the need for those Access databases ” Hannah says.

Computerworld contacted ANAO for right of reply and was advised it is ANAO policy not to offer further public comment on any of its reports.