Don't blame Mike: former ASD executive denies forced removal claim

By Stephen Easton

July 13, 2018

The former director of industry partnerships and security certifications at the Australian Signals Directorate has stated that director-general Mike Burgess did not cause her recent resignation from the agency, after 24 years working in Defence.

“Mike has been nothing but supportive of my career and has provided me with encouragement and mentorship,” Melissa Osborne wrote on LinkedIn. She was responding to a report suggesting her decision to quit resulted from an “internal brawl” over Microsoft gaining the certification to host Protected information earlier this year.

It would sound like silly office gossip, if the implications for Australia’s government data security were not so serious.

The original claim is that Osborne refused to sign off on the certification and Burgess then “removed her from the role” of deciding, leading her to seek employment elsewhere.

The ASD has also denied the “alleged removal” and asserted that Microsoft met the required standard for approval, which was boldly foreshadowed six months earlier as a goal of the ubiquitous software company and its local partner, Canberra Data Centres.

Melissa Osborne

“Microsoft will be the only major cloud provider in Australia to deliver cloud services to handle Unclassified and Protected government data,” the company confidently announced at the time in a press release with the support of Angus Taylor, then the assistant-minister for Digital Transformation. Four other cloud providers, including Australian companies like Vault Systems, have also achieved certification.

Osborne read the article on InnovationAus as “blaming” Burgess for her resignation and said that imputation was not true. James Riley, the site’s editor and author of the article, replied to say that was not intended and that he meant no disrespect to either Burgess or Osborne, while also defending the substance of his report.

The controversy over Microsoft is part of a world-wide issue; governments insist on local data residency and control, in return for access to lucrative government cloud application contracts. Big international cloud operators like Microsoft, IBM, Amazon Web Services and Google also represent large application ecosystems, and so gain a strategic advantage from adoption by the largest government agencies and clusters.

Elsewhere in the tech media, the new editor of iTnews Julian Bajkowski suggests the claims and counter-claims about Osborne’s resignation might just be “vendor-propelled white noise” linked to other criticism of the Microsoft certification and the idea that it negotiated a special deal with the government, which obscures the practical challenges of using cloud computing services in the public sector.

“It’s easy to characterise staff movements as the result of rows, feuds or brawls, especially when tech lobbying and government relations muscle thrown around in Canberra is substantial and sharply applied,” notes Bajkowski.

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