Defence aims at the future

The stakes a are high for Project Eden, the codename for a long term project to rollout a single electronic document and records management system across all arms of Australia's Defence forces.

The scale of the project is huge and the final cost is expected to lie somewhere between $A100m-$A500m.
Defence estimates it will need to handle 50,000 users within two years and up to 100 million new objects per annum. There will be users at up to 600 locations in Australian and overseas .

Defence has been evaluating vendors since 2006 and has missed previously announced deadlines for making a selection. It once claimed that the Project Eden selection process would be concluded by mid-2007.
According to the 2009 Defence Capability Plan, it now expects it in place before 2013-2015, pending Government approval. A decision on the EDRMS platform will be made before 2011.

Australia's Objective has long had a presence within the Australian Defence Forces, but this will not guarantee its long term survival. According to the last published plan from the Chief Information Officer Group, Project Eden "is expected to deliver a single logical repository..... Existing DRMS/EDMS applications, legacy applications and local DRM solutions and associated infrastructure will be systematically decommissioned ..."

A Defence spokesperson said, “Information management encompasses document, record and content management, and it also goes to our ability to search, retrieve and to discover and store data. It’s about our ability to get the right information to the right person at the right time to enable high-quality decisions to be made.
“Project Eden’s initial scope was a content, document and records management solution. Then we considered it in the context of the [2007] White Paper, and decided the project would stay much the same but we needed a more holistic information management strategy, architecture and program of work”.

Defence is putting together an Information Management work plan so that all branches of Defence know where they fit in the Enterprise Content Management Strategy.

Project Eden will embrace search engines, conditional access and taxonomy.
A report published by the Defence Chief Information Officer Group notes that defence data has been historically stored in stovepipes along organisational lines.

Defence maintains massive quantities of data in large central information repositories and smaller, regional servers.

"Exchange of data across these silos is often difficult and can result in invalid translations. The difficulty largely stems from inconsistent use of technical data definitions and natural language, which in turn impedes information exchange.

"For example, the technical definition of key data items such as Employee ID, Unit Name, Account Codes and Cost Centres can differ between corporate applications. Variations in data and contextual definitions have largely spawned from externally defined data definitions and data models collected over time from different applications and different vendors. Lack of effective departmental metadata consolidation has also impeded data quality management."

Defence currently has three main ERP applications: SAP for finance, an in-house developed personnel system based on based on PeopleSoft 7 and a customised version of the Mincom MIMS logistics program.
Defence currently uses a combination of Outlook/Exchange and Notes/Domino for email, depending on locations. In 2008 a migration from Exchange 5.5 and Lotus Notes email platforms to Exchange 2003 was being completed, and Active Directory being implemented.

Some of the main issues that Project Eden will address include the lack of security and manageability of storing documents on shared drives, and the danger of leakage from USB drives, CDs and other removeable media.
Defence is also concerned about the failure to capture email and Web content as records, irregular backup and the lack of "commitment to a culture of compliance with record keeping requirements throughout the department."
“We have an awful lot of data in Defence, but do we know where it is, and how quickly can we find it? Do we use different content for different purposes when it’s really the same?” said the spokesperson.

“So are we able to have a single source of content which you use for a whole range of different purposes because everybody can see it, knows where it is, and understands what it means?

“So far as document and records management are concerned, all records are documents but not all documents are records – copies of documents, for example, are not official records”.

“The strategy will certainly be evolutionary; we want to progress in a very measured and disciplined way”.

Data overboard

By Tony Corcoran

Getting the right information at the right time to the Minister has been a major problem for Defence, particularly over the last decade where expectations, fed in part by the promise of technological solutions for instant access, have far exceeded reality.

Defence’s poor performance has deeply scarred its organisational psyche, specifically through the ‘Children Overboard’ issue and the aftermath of a risk averse organisation. Poor information management, coupled with poor communication, has blighted Defence’s reputation.

So what is Defence doing to improve matters? For Defence generally, there’s the Strategic Reform Program, which is designed to fix the ‘broken backbone’ of Defence. There is commitment from the Government and from Defence’s CEOs to fix the problems.

Turning to improvements in the FOI and records management area, a new Branch was created four months ago because of our poor performance in those areas and the fact that we were non-complaint with both the FOI Act and the Archives Act.

Defence’s record-keeping processes are poor. They are not organised systematically and lack a firm central policy. Defence has developed a comprehensive strategy to address policy, tools, physical file sentencing and digitisation, training, cultural behaviour changes, monitoring and compliance and much more. The strategy will be implemented by the end of this year.

Central to this strategy is the upgrade and rollout across the organisation of a single electronic records management system. That will be critical to success. The aim is to have Defence assessed as a best practice record keeper within three years.

What are the problems with our FOI process? Timeliness is a major factor in our non-compliance with the FOI Act. Poor record-keeping across Defence exacerbates the situation.

Instilling a prodisclosure culture in Defence is going to be a challenge – as big a challenge as changing our record-keeping culture – but the two go hand in hand. Visibility and accountability need to be at the forefront of cultural change.

Success in these areas will position us to meet the challenges presented by the new FOI legislation.
Perhaps the biggest challenge – or biggest unknown – is the Information Publication Scheme. It has implications way beyond the FOI sphere and will provide a big test for our information management processes.