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ICT from scratch

ICT from scratch

The Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau Trust, which works with intellectually disabled people, rebuilt its ICT and networking systems from the bottom up in under a year, with the help of utility computing.

In 2006 when Henare Howard took over the ICT and other aspects, such as risk management, of the non-profit organisation Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau Trust, he found an unsatisfactory mix of IT equipment and communications infrastructure. The best course, he decided, was to rebuild the entire system from the ground up.

“There was inconsistent IT support from various providers, he says. “Most of the PCs were near the end of their life and were running various operating systems.” The network, covering four sites, was linked to two servers using a “less than optimal” ADSL network.

“There were a number of technical challenges,” Howard says, but the major non-technical challenge complicating the situation was a severe lack of capital.

The Trust, founded in 1999, provides services for intellectually disabled people. Many of them were formerly living in institutions, but were transferred into the community with the closure of these institutions in the 1980s and ‘90s. The Trust works over the North Island “from Kaitaia to Tokoroa” and the northern part of the South Island. It recently opened an office in Christchurch.

The organisation is approved by the Ministry of Health and further accredited as a high-quality provider by Quality Health NZ. “We have to meet certain standards and criteria and show a policy of continuous improvement” to gain accreditation, says Howard.

“Another way that we differentiate ourselves is that we approach services to our clients — our ‘mokopuna’, we call them — from a kaupapa Maori.” Not all of the clients are Maori; they include Pakeha, Chinese and other ethnicities.

Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau Trust also provides secure care for people — mostly physically fit young men — who have been in trouble with the justice system.

A 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation, the Trust has financials, management of its clients, communication with government and health-sector bodies to take care of on the information front, along with properties, a fleet of vehicles and other assets.

A new CEO in 2006 established a group of top-level executive managers for various crucial areas, including ICT. Howard was recruited from a background in ICT with manufacturing organisations and, more recently, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

Because of the limited budget and staffing, he decided on a closed tender with three candidate suppliers — the incumbent IT Nexus, Gen-i and Revera. “I gave each the opportunity of a series of meetings and discussed with them how they would approach the challenges.”

There was no formal Request for Proposal. Being new to the organisation himself, he did not feel able to sketch out the full background this would have required. As well, there were other priorities such as the build-up to accreditation in 2007, which made such a task too daunting.

“It was more a question of finding people who understood our needs and asking them to come up with something appropriate.” The solution had to be not only robust but also scalable, as the Trust was in a phase of rapid growth.

The incumbent was given a fair go, says Howard, but “I looked at what we had and thought we pretty much needed to start again.” A green fields approach would have the benefit of no “legacy IT” to worry about.

In the end, Revera was chosen because it would provide a “package service” and he felt best understood the objectives of the organisation and its way of working.

Being able to outsource the IT means it is an operational expense and the cost of the equipment and software can be amortised over a period. This helps the Trust’s hard-pressed finances. If it had continued with in-house IT the Trust would have had to look for a commercial sponsor, says Howard.

The Revera service goes beyond outsourcing to a genuine “utility computing service” — computing on tap, he says.

There is a team of four in information services, but they are also responsible for information and records management, the Trust’s marketing and public relations and its website, quality and risk management, research and development and clinical management, which leave little time for day-to-day IT.

In the almost 12 months since Revera was engaged, the customer base has grown by 60 per cent and the number of devices by 45 per cent, testing the scalability of their systems.

The in-house staff act as go-betweens from users to Revera, but Howard’s team is working on giving the Trust staff the confidence to get help from Revera themselves, freeing up the ICT team for long-term planning and development.

Financials — running on Attache — and human resources were brought across from the old system, as well as a records management system and Access databases for applications such as property and fleet management.

“We have a plan this year to replace financials with Greentree — our partner there is Endeavour Solutions. We’re getting rid of the Access databases and putting property and fleet management into Greentree.

“Revera has taken care of everything; they even provide the network switches,” he says. The Trust is now considering migrating its wide area network management from Telecom to Revera.

A major need is a proper unified architecture for information management, for both electronic and financial records. This means establishing a taxonomy of file-types and defining policies, procedures and templates around information life-cycles — how long, for example, to retain each type of file. The Trust has started on this task.

“We’re looking at a new database for our client information. In terms of value to the organisation, that will be key,” says Howard. Information is provided out of that database to the Ministries of Health and Social Development. The new database will allow a lot more of that to be done electronically, rather than partially manually as at present.

Mobility of staff is another priority. A more consistent ICT system already means it is easier for a staff member to move from one office to another. Now laptops are being equipped so the users can work securely from home, or from a client’s premises. “The way things used to work, they would be out with our mokopuna, then they’d have to come back into the office to enter data and they’d sometimes be here till eight or 9 o’clock at night.”

The new setup has been affordable and “we’ve got to a place where we can transform it at the applications level,” says Howard. The Trust plans to deploy servers for Microsoft Outlook Web Access, Live Communication Server and SharePoint. This will further broaden the options for communications, including mobile communication. “We’re looking at enabling people to email from their PDAs.”

With an eye to its travel costs and energy-saving concerns, the organisation is also exploring videoconferencing options. The Live Communication Server provides a relatively easy way to test out its videoconferencing needs, he says.

The system will “hopefully stabilise by this time next year” in good time for the run-up to its next accreditation hurdle in 2010, as the Trust’s accreditation is renewed every three years.

Fairfax Business Media

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