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Spooks seek better system to balance their books, store information

Thursday 21st November 2013

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New Zealand's intelligence agencies have gone to market in search of a system they can share to help their bean-counters better manage their books, while also giving them a place to store all sorts of information from all sorts of places.

The Government Communications Security Bureau and New Zealand Security Intelligence Service have put out the feelers for a reliable financial management information system which will give them a common platform to perform accounting and financial management functions for 13 users in two business units, and another 80 staff across both agencies.

The purpose of the request for tender, published on the government electronic tenders service, is to find a preferred provider for the intelligence agencies to align their financial management systems and software, which are currently different.

The primary services sought are expected to cover the agencies' accounting needs such as planning, budgeting, internal and external reporting, automation of workflows and business processes, providing Microsoft Excel functionality and electronically processing credit card transactions, the RFT says.

The intelligence agencies also want data warehousing capability to let them organise, manipulate and collate data "from disparate sources, with the ability to create simple, easy to access information for reporting or exporting or by use of other processes," the document said.

The data warehousing specification is a core requirement for the tender, meaning it's deemed to be a standard function for the system, though its weighting in the bid evaluation process is lower than the accounting, workflow and business process requirements.

The SIS and GCSB also required the system have the ability to separate out access and sharing of information between multiple agencies, and be able to assign levels of security.

The country's intelligence agencies, including the National Assessments Bureau within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, have been working to share more of their corporate services to keep a lid on costs, with an initial focus on finance, human resources, learning and development, procurement, facilities, and physical security, according to the SIS's 2012 annual report.

That work was scheduled to start in the 2013/14 financial year, and has already seen all of those agencies housed in one Wellington building to improve their ability to collaborate.

The inward-looking SIS had total expenditure of $40.7 million in the 2012 financial year, just under budget, while the GCSB, which is tasked with monitoring foreign threats to New Zealand, spent $56.1 million, also within budget. Both intelligence agencies published bare-bones financial statements in their respective annual reports.

The GSCB is rebuilding its reputation after it was found to have acted unlawfully by intercepting communications as part of the arrest of internet mogul Kim Dotcom last year.

That led to former Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge, who was last week appointed as the next head of the SIS, being seconded to review the GCSB last year.

Included in the findings of Kitteridge's report was criticism of the agency's inconsistent information management processes, which meant it probably didn't comply with the Public Records Act, and would struggle to meet statutory obligations set by the Official Information and Privacy Acts.

At the time of her review, the GCSB had only just introduced its first electronic documents records management system, with significant volumes of electronic material being held in personal folders and email archives.

Among her recommendations was for the agency to appoint an information manager tasked with aligning and rationalising the GCSB's databases, and addressing the issue of record-keeping as a matter of urgency.

By the time of GCSB's second compliance review progress report in September, the intelligence agency had yet to progress appointment of an information manager.

Still, it had considered the costs and benefits of a consolidated database, the details of which were withheld in a confidential appendix to the Kitteridge report.

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