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Building for tomorrow

Building for tomorrow

A new location for the NZ Defence Force involved moving four separate businesses and 750 people. It also gave NZDF the chance to rethink ICT at its headquarters, with a view to consolidation and future-proofing.

There can’t be many projects that involve moving four businesses into a single building, integrating information and communication systems comprising a multitude of servers and 14 separate networks and ensuring security and availability with a good deal of confidential information. This was the challenge that faced the New Zealand Defence Force in moving from its 60-year-old building in Wellington’s Stout Street, to a new base purpose-designed for today’s digitally intensive communications. Richard Hitchcock, senior programme manager IT and telephony, directorate of communications and information systems strategy, was in charge of the move and upgrade. The scope of the project was “quite simple”, he says, euphemistically. “I had to reduce complexity, I had to eliminate the high cost of support; I had to increase employee productivity and to exceed our users’ expectations. I had to enable solutions to deliver best business value and improve and encourage co-operation.

“I wasn’t only moving 750 people but four businesses,” he says — Army, Navy, Air Force and NZDF headquarters.

The new building was opened by the Prime Minister last year “on time, under budget and, I’m glad to say, it works,” says Hitchcock.

“We spent a huge amount of time on the design. I was very fortunate to be engaged before the earth was even turned for the building, so I could drive IT. “I was appointed project manager and I didn’t report to the CIO. I reported to our general manager organisational support, who in turn reported to the Chief of the Defence Force, the equivalent of a CEO. That’s not to [suggest] that we bypassed the CIO; it means we had control from the top down. We certainly kept the CIO in the loop and he had major input opportunities. We also went through three CIOs during that time.”

Superficially the physical Defence Force ICT infrastructure looks pretty much the same as many large businesses, he told attendees at a CIO/Computerworld luncheon. “We have a network that runs up and down the country. But the computers are a little different to what you operate. We have classified, restricted, corporate and unclassified environments. We also have a telephone system [with international reach]. We have radio communication and strategic satellite systems.”

The new building, on the corner of Aitken and Mulgrave Streets in Wellington, has a total floor area of 18,000 square metres, comprising seven floors of 2,500 square metres each, with a basement and gym. The area of one floor is bigger than that in any building in the CBD. “Each of the L-shaped floors provides working space for more than 110 personnel, each with a unique set of IT requirements not normally found in a static commercial building.

“This building is home to a number of strategic data centres, individually designed to serve IT technologies via complex infrastructure of secure computing environments for Defence and inter-governmental users,” says Hitchcock.

Potential access to as many as 14 different networks has to be available to each desktop in the building, plus additional capacity for future-proofing.

“We’re mainly a Dell hardware shop, with mainly Microsoft [software]. But we also have networks [with] fibre and copper switches. We have a Nortel digital exchange, audio conferencing bridges, audiovisual conference centres, a master television system and more than 2,000 PCs. Multiple networks carry corporate, classified and unclassified data. We have a requirement for high service availability and we’re a standards and compliance-driven environment.”

The network infrastructure has been set up for flexibility and future demand and to make any service potentially available at any point. “We flooded the building as much as possible with cable and we just bring it through the walls when we need to,” Hitchcock says. “It’s far cheaper to do it that way, than to come back and retrofit a piece of fibre later on.”

The building has 635 kilometres of Cat 6 copper cable and 140 kilometres of OM3 fibre, which processes all of NZDF’s classified material.

Training data, videoconferencing traffic for the AV centres and Sky TV for commanders to monitor the news also flows through the cables.

“We have lots of meeting rooms. Now we’ve got a centralised AV solution, so it doesn’t matter. Any one of those AV or meeting rooms you go to, you’re struck with the same infrastructure in terms of one training, one approach. Back in the old days, the Army, Navy and Air Force would develop their own strategies, with different types of solutions in each of the rooms. It was a nightmare for presenters and people that used them.

“Domestic and international standards organisations have been careful to ensure manufactured products must meet certain quality safety and performance norms for that category and class of product. Therefore, standards play a major role in providing uniformity in cabling infrastructure design and other performance benchmarks, which may be used to evaluate and compare different systems,” Hitchcock says.

Standards are also essential for approval to communicate securely with overseas defence forces. A structured cabling system built to correct standards repays the expense, “keeping in mind that upgrades to wiring systems can cost three times the initial expense” as walls will have to be re-opened he says.

The cabling is tidy with colour-coded cable-ties, so the purpose of each bundle can be readily discerned. This contrasts with the mess of cables allowed to accumulate in the Stout Street building. One of the major aspects of centralisation is in the printing facilities. “I was amazed when I rang up our partner Fuji Xerox and told them to come and take away 73 multi-function devices,” Hitchcock says. “We had 160 of them in Stout Street. They were locked in cupboards, they were hidden around corners, they were everywhere. No one had a centralised approach to printing. So we forced the users into doing it. We now have common printing areas; we now force the users to print duplex and we have recycling areas.”

Printing of secret documents is handled by special printers, with a facility for a document not to be printed until the person it’s intended for is standing at the printer and has entered a PIN number.

Significant human resource questions accompanied the new move. Some staff simply could not work in an open plan environment and left the organisation. Another challenge was not anticipated. “Our old building had raised flooring all the way through it that was wooden, nice and soft on you as you walked around; so our people had hip problems when they started in the new building; we had 15 of them go off on sick leave within three months of [starting], with hip complaints.”

To the standard question ‘if you had to do it again, would you do it the same way?’ Hitchcock says “absolutely not”.

“Defence has moved to having, for any project we manage, a lessons-learned system. All our project information is [in a database] downloaded centrally. When someone else comes along and sets up a project like this, they can read through our files, read through our lessons-learned database and ensure things are done better next time round.”

APC sponsored the CIO/Computerworld luncheon on “Protecting the Country’s Critical Defence Infrastructure” featuring Richard Hitchcock of the New Zealand Defence Force.

Fairfax Business Media

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