by Tim Lohman

Defence needs its own app store: ADF CIO

Mar 21, 20124 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsGovernmentMobile

The Australian Defence Force will seek to create its own Apple-like app store as a means to more quickly deliver applications and capabilities to service and support personnel.

According to Defence chief information officer, Greg Farr, the highly influential and pervasive consumerisation of IT trend has affected all sectors of all sectors of government and the economy – including Defence.

As such, armed forces personnel were now using not only using smartphones in the field, but sourcing applications from commercially available sources — such as the Apple App Store — to help them carry out their roles.

The response to this trend, Farr said, was for Defence to enable its personnel to create the applications they needed to get their jobs done.

“I believe Defence needs an app store,” Farr said, speaking at an Australian Computer Society (ACS) conference on government IT. “I think we need to have that environment in-house where people can develop those apps and use them.

“Now there is a number of issues around it, but I can see that in the next one to two years that Defence will have an app store where — not people in the IT shop necessarily — but real business users who have a real business need will spend a couple of days developing an app.”

Farr said that as Defence CIO, he had the option of attempting to push back against the consumerisation trend and to regain control over ICT use. However, to do so risked sidelining the IT function within defence or worse.

“We can try to stop [the consumerisation of IT] or accept that this is the new world,” he said. “We can try and stop that world, but if we do we risk becoming irrelevant. I think that is the challenge for us all is to actually show we can contribute value as a business enabler and not be a blocker.”

Providing an example of consumerisation within the defence sector, Farr pointed to the US military and the use by some of its personnel of a ballistics calculator application to allow to more accurately determine the trajectory of rifle shots.

“You can buy it from the App Store and it will cost you $14.95. You can pull it down and use it immediately,” he said.

Commenting further — and with potentially major implications for Defence’s massive ICT strategic reform program — Farr hinted that the days of major software deployments across Defence could be limited.

“I spoke to a group of systems integrators recently and told them, ‘you think you’re competing against each other? You are competing against [the App Store]’,” he said.

“Why would someone spend 12 months working through with you, at enormous expense then take another year or two years to deliver an application at millions and millions of dollars when I can go to the App Store and pull down an application for $10.

“That is the environment people expect and you cannot stop them using it. They are doing it at home so they will do it at work.”

Farr said he did anticipate some push back from within Defence to the idea, largely around the issue of IT security. However, he said that while security was valid concern, risk had to be balanced against business reward.

“I think security is sometimes overblown a bit. We take a purist view without actually doing a business-benefit-security trade-off. People, rightly, get nervous around ICT security, but people used to steal letters out of letter boxes on the past that didn’t stop us using the post.

“We need to accept that the threats are very real, but we also need people who can make informed trade-offs decisions: yes, that is a risk but look at the benefits, so yes I will take that risk.”

The issue of security threats to Australia’s defence has been a focus for the Federal Government of late with the Gillard Government unveiling a cyber security competition earlier this month aimed at enticing ICT university students into the information security industry.

The Cyber Defence University Challenge is designed to test the problem-solving skills of teams of Australian undergraduates in a virtual computer network scenario. It will run for 24 hours from the 3 to 4 April 2012.

In January Australia was ranked third behind the UK and US and ahead of 17 other G-20 nations for its ability to withstand cyber attacks and to deploy the digital infrastructure needed for a productive and secure economy.