Legacy lessons

Legacy lessons

When the Tertiary Education Commission was formed in 2003, it inherited its technology from the former Skill New Zealand and the Tertiary Resourcing Unit. It was established to implement tertiary education reforms the Government had recently put into legislation.

For the then newly appointed CIO David Oakes, the subsequent two years have been a period of replacing legacy systems, setting up new business processes and replacing infrastructure.

"We had to set up new business processes when we were established, so I put in place a program to replace legacy systems and at the same time serve the new needs. We've also got a large program of work to replace all aspects of the infrastructure," he says.

Oakes is also implementing strategies around knowledge management. Such plans don't come cheaply. He has a capital expenditure budget of around NZ$4 million (US$2.8 million) and an operational budget of up to NZ$5 million a year.

Born in Cardiff, Wales, of English parentage, Oakes studied computer science at university. "It was one of the first years in the U.K. where you were able to undertake computer science in its own right. I graduated in 1983.

His first job was as a software developer. He moved to New Zealand in 1988 as a business analyst after being recruited in a Databank drive in the U.K. From there, he moved to consultancy Azimuth, working for a year on the Clyde dam project. He subsequently had a variety of consulting roles in New Zealand then back in the U.K.

Married to a New Zealander, he relocated to New Zealand in 2000 as software development manager for SolNet before taking on the TEC role.

The TEC has three inherited funding systems that Oakes is looking to integrate under the IFCOM (integrated funding and contract management) project. Two of those, based on Powerbuilder, are 10 years old and the other is a seven-year-old Visual Basic program.

There are around 800 tertiary organizations that receive funding from the TEC, which provides NZ$2.4 billion in funding annually. Some of these are secondary schools that provide additional training facilities, such as the Gateway Programme, for adults.

Each organization has a charter, a high-level governance document that describes the organization's role in the tertiary education system and how it aligns with the Government's Tertiary Education Strategy. The charter covers a medium to long-term time-frame and provides the basis for a profile.

The TEC assesses each charter and makes a recommendation to the Minister of Education on whether the organization qualifies for funding.

Funding is based on what is termed EFTs -- equivalent full-time students. This is applied as a full or partial rating to all courses. "Once a qualification is approved by the NZQA, we approve it on another set of parameters for government funding. These are based on enrolment, and the organization gets the appropriate portion of an EFT for students. It is estimated, and the actual student numbers submitted retrospectively."

Phase one of Oakes' ICT plan, to rebuild the systems for new processes, has been completed. Phase two is the replacement of the funding technology.

"We've put in an Oracle data warehouse and Cognos reporting tools," he says. "These will present a consolidated view of the tertiary providers and the funds." The financials are from Finance One.

"Because we are quite a new organization, we've been able to form good relationships with the business units and policy groups. That means we are getting early notification when (government) policy changes are in the wind."

The other major agencies in the education sector are the Ministry and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. An ICT standing committee has been formed across them and the TEC, as well as the National Library.

Oakes says a lot of data is collected from the tertiary providers and that, in the past, there has been a lot of duplication. "A classic example was private training programs where the provider had to give us paper-based information, then duplicate that for the NZQA. We've formulated a way that means the information has to be submitted only once and we can share it."

He says this has been a good test of collaboration between the agencies, which now have an electronic receipting system over the internet, using the Ministry's secure identification system.

"We have a Monitoring and Evaluation business unit that looks at performance and compliance. We're working closely with them to get to business intelligence."

The TEC is in the final stages of rolling out a document management system from Objective Corporation. "We selected it on the basis that it fits in with our IFCOM architecture," he says.

"A lot of our information is unstructured, relating to charters and profiles. We use it to plan each tertiary provider year. We needed document and records management and also to provide a source of information for applications and our knowledge management strategy. We've working toward a service-oriented architecture where every system contributes."

Oakes has 28 direct reports in the ICT unit and up to 60 staff at any one time. Some of the work, such as software development, is outsourced. "One part looks after our infrastructure, and the other side looks after our information systems," he says.

There is a clear delineation between the business and IT. "The business has to have a clear understanding on the information we collect and how it's used. "If IT were in control, some of the business meaning could be blurred. I'm really comfortable with that."

Oakes has a planning horizon of one to three years, including an 18-month cycle to align with budget plans. There is a three-year technology cycle, which he says seems to fit well with the evolution of policy and business processes.

Mobility is an important component of the ICT strategy because the TEC was formed with a basic role of relationship management. Nationally, it has 325 staff, which includes 14 area offices, part of whose role is to meet on site with tertiary providers to discuss courses and charters.

They are provided with Harrier PDAs and a remote access solution to email and a calendar over a Firepass secure virtual private network from Telecom. All the area offices have a pool of laptops using T3G.

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