Data management a balancing act at Wanganui District Council

Data management a balancing act at Wanganui District Council

Running IT at a smaller local council does not mean the challenges are less, says IS manager Jason Simons.

Jason Simons, information systems manager of the Wanganui District Council, says the IT needs of a small local council do not necessarily scale down. He points out that the council “will be doing exactly the same activities as any large city, they will still need to support all business functions, but with far fewer resources.”

Simons, who joined the council three years ago, leads an IT team of 14. The council has more than 300 users in a heavily virtualised VMware environment with a range of applications including Microsoft Exchange, SQL server and SharePoint. The council also maintains an electronic document and records management system (EDRMS) for data retention; geographic information system (GIS) for emergency services and civil defence; and property and rating software for managing property, land and address information.

He says that one area that is very important in the local government sphere is responsibility for public records. This is “quite different from private industry where literally you are looking after your own business…in the public sector you are looking after the information on the public’s behalf, especially.”

Like many organisations the council has seen a huge growth in data. In the 18 months since the council has been measuring data growth, he estimates the increase to be about 4 percent per month.

The council has deployed Commvault Simpana software for its data management and compliance retention. This system allows the council to make copies of backup data and move it to the offsite datacentre by coupling the software deduplication with DASH (Deduplication Accelerated Streaming Hash) replication.

Simons says prior to the move, the council had archived tapes as part of its business continuity programme. “We had the misguided belief that those archived tapes were archived,” he says. “They were simply backups that were not accessible in the current generation of backup software.”

Apart from solving the backup problem, the council will also have the ability to recover the information locally and remotely. “It was very much a holistic approach, not just focusing on backup capabilities but recovery capabilities.”

Simons says the recent Christchurch earthquake helped the IT team to get funding for the systems migration. “What is hugely recognisable by the organisation is in the event that something gets deleted or we would like to recover something at some point in time, we can deliver that almost immediately, in less than a minute.

“Once we know and can drill down what the users are trying to recover, [we] literally click the button and it is there.” In the past, if the council managed to backup successfully, he says it would have taken a whole morning to actually recover the file.

Simons says the most important priority for the IT team is provide reliable services to the business. “The organisation has to trust that the services are there when they needed them.

“Standing in front of your chief executive saying; ‘Sorry, but I can not restore X because it was not backed up or we had a failure…is unacceptable.’”

“It is very much about focusing on what activities my staff can provide that add the value, and what activities that can be provided in a variety of formats that do not need staff involvement. It is a balance of outsourcing the normal stuff, but in-sourcing what is critical to the organisation.”

Divina Paredes is editor of CIO New Zealand.

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