30 Sep 2016

Sometimes You Just Have To Know When To Quit

The Australian government’s often dysfunctional relationship with IBM just got a little worse. They’re like one of those couples who constantly fight in public, but never break up. In its senate inquiry submission over #CensusFail, the Australian Bureau of Statistics performed its best rendition of Shaggy’s reggae-rap classic, It Wasn’t Me. The ABS had extensively planned and prepared for taking the Census online, it said, but IBM got it wrong by not adequately addressing an anticipated risk.

Of course, this is not the first time things have gone pear-shaped between Big Blue and Australian government departments. The 2007 rollout of Queensland Health’s payroll system went so spectacularly wrong that it cost taxpayers $1.2 billion and led to an inquiry. Delighted journalists broke out some of their favourite words, including ‘bungle’ and ‘debacle’. Not even nostalgia for the fact that the Queensland parliament’s first computer was an IBM System 32 (with 8MB of memory) was enough to keep the relationship alive. The state government’s sector-wide ban on new contracts with the company remains in place to this day.

Not so with the federal government, which this week awarded IBM a $4 million contract to develop an e-commerce solution as part of the Australian Taxation Office’s Reinvention program. It seems that the government just doesn’t know how to quit Big Blue. In its defence, IBM’s not the only vendor that’s been part of high-profile government technology disasters. It was nowhere near Victoria’s Myki melee last year, for starters.

With so many issues, you have to wonder whether the problem is with the buyer, not the seller. The ABS maintains that part of the problem with #CensusFail was that its headcount had gone down 14 per cent in the last 15 years, while the demands on its services have increased, which limited its ability to respond in a timely manner. Meanwhile, IBM’s defence in the payroll “debungle” was that the government kept changing the scope as the project went on.

Outside of the blame game, a report released by the Queensland Audit Office this week found that the state’s procurement procedures did not take into account off-contract spending and that department managers didn’t have the tools or data to make strategic procurement decisions.

While the tarnish of these high-profile failures may require IBM to break out the Brasso to clean up its image, state and federal governments should be asking whether they’re investing in the resources and intelligence required to lead the innovation nation they keep talking about.

Will Tweet For Food

Will the Twitter bird soon be sporting a set of mouse ears? Disney was named this week as a potential buyer of the fading social media site.

Google and Salesforce have also appeared in the mix as rumours are upgraded from murmur to loud whisper and the sale now seems as inevitable as the next six months of ‘Breaking Brangelina’ magazine covers.

But the questions around Twitter’s future go beyond its ownership. With three consecutive quarters of zero growth and trouble attracting advertisers, the microblogging site is struggling for relevance. Facebook is keeping pace with and possibly improving on any innovations (Periscope vs Facebook Live) and the rise of picture-focused sites like Instagram and Snapchat continue to erode audience.

We’d also lay blame for its decline on the inability to edit Tweets for typos, but that’s probably just us. Unfortunately, part of what makes Twitter so great, that it’s built on followers not friends, making it a great platform for interacting with people when you don’t have a pre-existing relationship, is also proving to be its Achilles’ heel. Twitter now enjoys a reputation as one of the Trolliest Places on Earth.

But we also saw this week that when it comes to social media, it really has no competition during focal events that require immediate comment, like breaking news or dramatic moments in reality TV. Or the US Presidential Debate, which is technically both. There’s nothing quite like second screening on Twitter and being reminded that Jerry Springer still exists.

Arise, Google Phone

As the ubiquity of the #MadeByGoogle campaign on social media and the presence of light installations around the country constantly remind us, Google will be launching its new smartphone next week.

Not much is known about the phone, which is rumoured to be called Pixel, but after extensively studying the 15-second video, we can exclusively reveal that it does appear to be phone-shaped.

The release comes at a good time for Google, with Samsung in the midst of exploding battery misery while Apple bets on iPhone owners hating headphone jacks. So, will Google’s phone be the next Gmail … or Google+?

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  • Facts matter
    04/10/2016 Reply

    Small problem. The inquiry into the QLD payroll found IBM won the business with dodgy tactics but the reason the project went off the rails was terrible management by QLD health

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