Defence is supported by one of the largest and most complex Information and Communications Technology (ICT) undertakings in the nation, operated by the Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG). As well as provisioning and supporting over 100,000 Defence employees’ corporate ICT requirements, CIOG delivers mission-critical systems and services to enable the warfighting capabilities of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) globally.
With an annual spend of $1.7 billion, CIOG leads the integrated design, cost-effective delivery and sustained operation of Defence’s Single Information Environment (SIE). The SIE encompasses Defence’s information, computing and communications infrastructure, along with the management systems and people to deliver that infrastructure. It includes Defence’s information assets, computing networks, business applications and the data that they generate and carry, as well as the communication standards and spectrum required for Battlespace networks. The infrastructure CIOG provides is essential and integral to core Defence functions such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communications, information warfare, command and management. This includes the dispersed, fixed, deployable and mobile networks that underpin ADF operations.
CIOG is dedicated to providing a dependable, secure and integrated ICT environment and is investing in delivering the future of Defence ICT. Investment in new and emerging technology will ensure we maintain our technological edge, with faster and more contemporary ICT systems. This will ensure that the right information is available to Defence decision-makers at the right time. Investment in Defence’s ICT will guarantee the ADF is able to respond quickly to emerging threats and enable Defence business processes to become more efficient and effective.
The past year, 2019–20, was a challenging period for all Australians. Defence has increasingly supported national tasks, which in 2019–20 included responding to the devastating bushfires over summer and combating the global COVID-19 pandemic. ICT capabilities have been increasingly relied upon in these times of crisis. This is particularly the case with the necessary pivot to remote/home working as a measure to address COVID-19.
CIOG undertook a range of activities to increase the resilience of existing ICT infrastructure and introduce new capabilities to support the escalating numbers of personnel working remotely. Usage of the Defence Remote Electronic Access Management System (DREAMS), which is used to connect virtually to the Defence PROTECTED network for remote working, increased by almost 900 per cent as a result of COVID-19 measures and proved critical for business continuity. As Defence staff began to work remotely in March 2020, the demand for collaboration capabilities grew dramatically. CIOG formed a multidisciplinary team to design and field Office 365 at the
PROTECTED level, a project that had been planned for delivery in 2021. The Virtual Environment for Remote Access (VERA) was developed and delivered for initial release in just eight weeks, with availability across Defence achieved within 11 weeks. VERA can be accessed through personal as well as Defence devices and allows Defence users to:
- access, update and send PROTECTED-level documentation on personal laptops without the need to access DREAMS
- conduct PROTECTED-level voice and video collaboration through Microsoft Teams, which includes the ability to share screens and documents while videoconferencing
- securely collaborate on documents simultaneously and in real time with visibility of who is making amendments
- share a full range of file types and sizes with colleagues and store documents in a secure shared location within the remote environment.
The VERA implementation has provided Defence with a marked improvement in the suite of tools available to enable personnel to work remotely at the PROTECTED level. This has had a positive effect on productivity and provides greater workplace flexibility.
The COVID-19 pandemic also stimulated demand for other ICT tools. CIOG worked closely with Joint Health Command to develop a virtual assistant or ‘chatbot’ to allow personnel to easily seek assistance on a wide range of frequently asked questions related to COVID-19. It is updated regularly and provides the very latest information to assist commanders and managers to support the health and safety of their people. The success of the COVID-19 virtual assistant provides opportunities for Defence to apply this technology to a range of other uses to improve interaction and service delivery.