Armscor wants R60m for IT

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 07 Nov 2007

Armscor, the state arms acquisitions agency, needs to spend R60 million over the next five years to refresh its technology.

However, aspects of the plan could be put on hold pending government clarifying the future of the organisation. Armscor is an agency of the Department of Defence (DOD), tasked with supporting defence acquisitions, old equipment disposal and some research and development.

Defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota last year said Armscor could be disbanded as part of a policy update, with some of its functions being allocated to a Defence Evaluation and Research Institute, reporting to the Department of Science and Technology. Other functions would be taken over by the DOD.

It is unclear when this policy will be adopted and made public. In the meantime, the auditor general - in a review of the corporation in its latest annual report - raises questions about the organisation`s status as a going concern.

Startling admissions

Armscor in May alarmed members of Parliament when it told them during a scheduled routine business briefing that its IT infrastructure was obsolete and its human resources application was no longer supported.

"The application... is being used by [the] human resources department to maintain employees` biographical and leave data," Armscor officials told MPs.

"The system was originally bought from Cyborg Systems Africa. This company was taken over by Hewitt Associates... Armscor was notified in October 2005 that Hewitt Associates were going to cease all their African Cyborg support operations at the end of April 2007."

The officials added that the dated mainframe`s running costs were also high, while the database systems and program languages used at the agency were obsolete.

"Outdated development languages, such as Cobol, and database management systems, such as IDMS, are rarely supported, as skills are dwindling and expensive. Moreover, training institutions are no longer providing training for these technologies because they are outdated," MPs heard.

Cart before horse

They were also told that, in anticipation of this obsolescence, the corporation completed a "user requirements specification" for a new IT system in October last year and issued a request for information to industry to assess the cost implications. Quotes, they say, ranged from R45 million to R213 million.

This process had earlier been derailed when it was discovered that "important systems" had not been included and that enterprise architecture was also required. "The initial approach was not holistic," MPs were told.

The scope of the project was then expanded "to include other critical systems that were not included in the original scope". Armscor`s ICT division then submitted a business case to the board to approve R60 million over the next five years - subject to the availability of funds.

Moving forward

Armscor`s annual report, released in Parliament this week, notes progress has been brisk since May.

A multitude of old servers have been substituted with a blade frame server, dated notebook computers have been replaced, printers have been consolidated, and lockdown workstations have made way for thin client devices.

"One of the most important milestones that will be achieved through this project is that Armscor will consolidate its large number of servers at head office into a single blade technology server," the annual report says. "Cost savings will materialise once this consolidation process has been completed, due to fewer licences, lower server support and maintenance costs.

"The second phase of the enterprise architecture project entailed the mapping of the business processes of Armscor to a level where a user requirements specification can be generated for all the application systems. This phase of the project was completed at the end of October 2006."

However, in light of the uncertainty over the future of Armscor, other aspects of the IT renewal have been put on hold.

"The project to re-engineer the application systems of Armscor to migrate the mainframe applications, solve the 16-bit applications dilemma, solve the human resource applications issues, address BEE requirements, address acquisition process changes, etc, has been put on hold, pending approval of the ICT strategy by the board of directors, as well as clear business direction as regards the transformation of the organisation," the annual report says.

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