The how, what and why behind three ICT projects celebrated at the 2016 Annual ALGIM Awards.
GISBORNE DISTRICT COUNCIL
Mobility solution for rivers and land drainage asset maintenance
What problem were you trying to resolve?
We wanted to increase the data quality and completeness for all maintenance works (both scheduled and reactive). Ideally, we had to stop using paper and transition to a paperless mobile solution for our rivers and land drainage field team that ensures the information is loaded into the system before staff leave the worksite. Now, asset location, maintenance and inspections data is entered once and close to the source (saving time) with the ability to attach photos or documents to support that data..
First of all, with clear requirements. The solution had to be: simple to use; flexible; non-disruptive, compatible with existing standard operational procedures; aligned with council’s health and safety procedures; and easily transferrable to other areas, such as parks and reserves, and utilities.
Second, we had early engagement of end users, including complete training and field “escorting”. The planned go-live date for this piece of work was February 2016.
We started engaging the team in September 2015, sharing our vision and working with them to create “a desire for change”. Also, we instilled a sense of pride within the team. They would be the “first to see the light”.
We involved them in the user interface definition and testing process, as we knew this would help us neutralise any future opposition.
Finally, we trained team members in January, close to the go-live date. And, during the first couple of weeks after go-live, we were supporting them in the field, by their side.
Our solution was developed on a fieldGO (formerly KernMobile) enterprise mobility platform and deployed on ruggedised tablets. It was also integrated with our backend (Infor’s IPS8 and ArcGIS) using DataPump (fieldGO integration module) to access some web services built ad-hoc.
The solution was developed in-house, by our own business analysts and IT staff, but we partnered with fieldGO which helped us with initial scoping, training of our IT staff and fixing any bugs.
The users are more than satisfied with the solution. They’ve been successful in adopting the new system and making it work. This was key to realising the project benefits.
- Time saved retrieving asset information. The system provides a paperless mobile solution that ensures the information is loaded into the system before staff leave the worksite. Over 80 percent of old paper-based information has been disposed of.
- Accurate asset information. Any differences between preloaded information and actual data captured can be easily and readily identified and reported.
- Streamlined, consistent business processes now result in better quality data and increased efficiency.
- Asset history such as maintenance, inspections and repairs are all easily tracked and reported on. Data is entered once and close to the source. Staff also have the ability to attach photos to support data.
- Improved capability to analyse and optimise maintenance.
– We have a complete asset register in a centralised corporate system (IPS8) linked to GIS and accessible on site via our mobility solution.
– Site access details are recorded.
– We have automated manual scheduling of works and scheduled inspections of leases on floodway land.
– The maintenance history of all assets held is easily accessed when needed (this is particularly important on site).
– Field inspectors can record faults found which initiates follow-up workflow.
– We can manage a work “to-do” list initiated by the public, council staff or schedules.
- Increased awareness and assurance of the team using, and adhering to, our health and safety policies.
This pilot project has validated our delivery process and set up the foundations for additional mobility solutions we have developed for other teams (including parks and reserves, and utilities). It also helped confirm the importance of early engagement and other change management activities for project success.
Source: Javier Zaya, senior project manager – information services, Gisborne District Council.
PALMERSTON NORTH CITY COUNCIL
Manawatu Heritage: A new kind of digital repository
What problem were you trying to resolve?
Our existing digital library, running on ArchivalWare, was aging. Pataka Ipurangi, as it was called, offered the ability for the library to upload single digital images, limited to 800 pixels wide, as well as multi-page documents converted to PDFs, and audio.
But while this system had started us on the road to providing wider access to our collections via digitisation, it became increasingly obvious that Pataka Ipurangi didn’t have the capacity to help us reach the vision and goals that our unit and wider council aspired to. And while we knew we had great content, it did not allow us to showcase it.
Of particular note was that it had no ability for the community to interact with the content in any form, or even with us from the site. Also while we continued to grow our community contributions through the traditional methods of donation or lending of items for us to digitise and upload, there were obvious barriers to growing our collection and to capturing today’s stories.
As well, Pataka Ipurangi was not built for a world where social media dominates, and information is found foremost via Google.
The system was not findable or linkable due to session-based URLs. It was not easily harvestable, due to lack of harvesting protocols and an application programming interface (API), and it was not mobile friendly.
We started by developing a project charter which clearly identified team roles, the scope of the project, and a robust needs analysis, while also applying for programme funding under the council’s long-term plan (LTP).
We analysed current usage, mapped stakeholders, conducted surveys and focus groups, and sought to understand current trends and opportunities. Project management was well organised, and communication and task management were facilitated through Basecamp.
Once funding was secured in the LTP, the team made some tough choices. We chose to favour usability over accuracy, simplicity over powerful functionality, collaboration over control, free access to content over strict legal compliance, and community engagement over standards compliance.
The request for proposal was developed to ensure that functional and non-functional specifications were simply and clearly worded, and that priorities were clear. The message to the prospective vendors was that we wanted the system to be: fast, reliable, simple, mobile and interoperable. Once we had selected Auckland-based company My Tours as our developer, we collaboratively defined the development deliverables and a delivery schedule and signed the contract.
We used the Basecamp online project management tool.
Manawatu Heritage is built to be easily discoverable through search engines and content aggregators such as DigitalNZ. From the customer’s first encounter with the repository, they are met with a clean design that leads them into a great user experience through:
- only presenting meaningful options;
- the speed of delivery of items;
- high-resolution viewing;
- easy sharing through permalinks;
- the viewing of a much wider range of collection items such as photograph albums and other complex objects in their entirety;
- the ability to download large files, depending on copyright status and the sharing of copyrighted works to a large degree through zooming, while protecting the owner’s rights; and
- the same experience no matter what device is used for viewing. This is essential when capitalising on click-throughs from mobile social media.
Foremost amongst the benefits is the ease with which people can now interact with the repository, from uploading their own content (images and written articles), through to commenting, tagging and favouriting individual items.
Importantly, Manawatu Heritage has the capability to really support our library’s vision of Te Ara Whanui o Te Ao (Inspiring people to explore the pathways to the world).
The repository is also an effective delivery mechanism for the Palmerston North City Council’s heritage, digital and arts strategies. For example, through Manawatu Heritage better showcasing our wider collections in a clean, user-friendly manner, and providing the ability to build community-driven content, we are supporting the number one driver for the heritage strategy; valuing and raising awareness of our city’s rich heritage.
Building another system which is available for use by the wider sector is also a huge benefit to New Zealand and even worldwide
- Be very clear about what you are trying to achieve, and be united as a project team in what this is.
- Take your time to plan and consult widely.
- Work with a vendor who wants the same thing as you. It makes it a lot easier to develop something you are both invested in, and there is an understanding about what you are trying to achieve.
- Don’t think you will get it right in one year. The best thing we did was to start with a minimal variable product (MVP) and build upon it as, despite best intentions, after going live you are sure to shift or change priorities.
Source: Lesley Courtney, heritage team leader, Palmerston North City Council.
SHARED SERVICES OFFICE (Porirua, Upper Hutt & Wellington City Councils, & Wellington Water)
ICT Shared Services Programme
What problem were you trying to resolve?
Councils in the Wellington region reviewed their IT operations and agreed they were not sustainable for a number of reasons:
- Lack of standardisation and organisational scale limited purchasing efficiencies, increased complexity and raised the risk of failure.
- Increasing reliance on technology to deliver core services was hiking pressure on systems environments to be available 24/7 and to be more resilient.
- Rapid developments in technology capability and connectivity were raising public expectations for a wider breadth of services across multiple platforms.
- The high level of effort required to maintain old legacy systems was reducing the required agility to respond to customer needs in a timely manner.
- A general shortage of high-quality technology skills meant an ongoing challenge finding and retaining good staff.
- There was significant management overhead in managing multiple vendors and commercial contracts
A feasibility study recommended that a shared services solution was practical and realisable. The shared services model seeks to address all the identified issues. The service providers designed, built, paid for and maintain the physical service infrastructure that delivers the technology services. The participating councils / agencies (Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington City Councils, and Wellington Water) simply pay for their use of the services.
A single service interface, the Shared Services Office (SSO) manages and monitors the service providers on behalf of the councils. The level and cost of service is defined in a master services agreement between the SSO and the service providers. This contract makes provision for additional services, service providers and councils under the same terms and conditions. The overall service is owned and governed by the participating councils / agencies
The infrastructure provides up-to-date server, WAN, LAN, desktop and mobile technology to bring all the participants to the same level of technology. The servers are spread across two data centres, providing disaster recovery capability.
The integrated architecture is designed around five service towers:
Service integration – based around a common service desk providing end-to-end service integration and service monitoring and management (problems, incidents, requests, service levels, knowledge, availability, events, changes and assets).
- Infrastructure management – data centres, data storage, disaster recovery provision, application servers plus identity, control and security systems.
- Network management – a regional and local networking environment linking computers, mobiles, internet and business systems plus a shared telephone system.
- Desktop services – these provide and manage items such as desktop and laptop equipment, printers and scanners. They provide software deployment.
- Mobile services – provide and manage mobile phones and tablets; integration with phone system, email and calendars; connection to data and web.
In addition, a logical sixth tower provides strategic advisory services which leverages the global technology capability of the principal service provider, Dimension Data. These professional services support the ICT function of the participating councils and help shape the growth and technology direction of the shared service through the identification and adoption of new technology capability.
Dimension Data was selected as the principal service provider to design, build and maintain the technology platform.
The full transition exercise, which will put all participating agencies on the same hardware and operational software platform, will not be fully in place until the first quarter of 2017, so full measurable results in terms of performance and cost benefits are not yet available. However less tangible benefits are becoming clear:
- Providing staff with simplified, modernised platforms should produce a better and more reliable work environment;
- Upgrading security standards should generate improved safety and performance;
- The shared telephone system will facilitate staff flexibility and mobility which is further enhanced by the Desktop as a Service and the Enterprise Mobile as a Service facilities;
- Dual data centres and network redundancy provide business continuity and disaster recovery capability;
- Access to Dimension Data’s global expertise ensures that we are better positioned to embrace technology change;
- Known service levels and rates, and standard units of cost of consumption make for more predictable budgeting;
- Multiple participating agencies do start to give greater economies of scale;
- The service provider takes responsibility for most hardware and software procurement, the agencies simply pay a usage charge for the level of service they use – this is an operational expense;
- Having known and common service level agreements across all participating agencies takes pressure off the IT function allowing them more time to focus on high value work;
- The single service interface (the SSO) reduces the vendor and contract management overhead; and
- Contractual rights to monitor, measure and audit performance facilitate Section 17a requirements.
There have been many lessons and we are still learning. No matter how good the due diligence is, there will always be surprises and unknowns. Predictive usage and traffic rates are usually low in practice. Although councils have legislatively similar objectives, they pursue very different routes of delivery and have very different cultures – all of which have to be worked around.
Parallel change across multiple agencies adds a whole new dimension of complexity. Change is definitely more effective in short steps. It is vital to manage expectations. The service will not be perfect in every way and probably doesn’t need to be, but has to be significantly better than the current state.
Retaining good relationships and having constant, open and honest communication is absolutely critical.
Since its original conception, it has always been planned that the service should be accessible by other councils or agencies, and this is reflected in the ‘umbrella’ master services agreement which allows the on-boarding of new participants as well as new services and new service providers under the same broad terms and conditions.
For prospective new councils, the good news is that the environment has been significantly de-risked. The original participating agencies have made the commitment and provided the funding to make the service a reality. Dimension Data has made the commitment and taken the risk of designing, building and maintaining the operational infrastructure.
On completion, the transition programme will have probably identified and remedied at least 90 percent of issues likely to arise with any new on-boarding agency.
Source: Channa Jayasinha, manager, Shared Services Office
This article was first published in the February 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.