When the New Zealand Defence Force moved to a new building in Wellington after 60 years working from its former premises, three people walked off the job on the first day. Richard Hitchcock, senior project manager for IT and Telephony, says when changing premises and associated ICT systems it pays not to underestimate the effect on individuals. “We had some big HR change management issues from day one. Sixteen people had to take time off within two months as a result of hip problems caused by the move from a wooden-floored workplace to carpet and concrete. And as a result of the new open plan office and a new interaction of military and civilian staff, three people simply didn’t turn up for work again,” says Hitchcock.
He says relocating four different ‘companies’ (Navy, Air Force, Army and Defence HQ) each with its own culture and vision and getting them to agree on a shared IT vision within a shared building was challenging. Yet NZDF underwent an extensive planning and staff consultation process. Hitchcock says a pleasant, ‘homely’ and family-friendly work environment is an important retention tool today.
NZDF established a Sharepoint website so staff could share their thoughts about the new building, its facilities and plans. Along with a team dedicated to design and build, NZDF also initiated internal workshops, and researched corporate building planning and commercial development ideas, as well as receiving military input.
Change management aside, Hitchcock says vast amounts of network, cabling and fibre had to be removed from the old building, along with under-used and in some cases unknown ICT devices – an exercise which underlined the need for more streamlined and cost-efficient office operations into the future.
“We found 57 multi-function devices we didn’t know we had, because they were hidden behind pillars or whatever. The move allowed us to establish new [procurement and operational] policies such as no bubble jet printers, and ensuring print-capable devices are set to duplex. Even the new lighting system automatically adjusts according to how much light is coming into the building. Cleaners have light at night for only the areas they need to vacuum so the whole floor is not lit up,” says Hitchcock.
He says it was challenging working with building suppliers. One forgot to close off a fire sprinkler pipe in the main telecommunications cabinet so that when the sprinkler system was tested, the copper was drenched, and everything had to be replaced within three weeks, while many civilian suppliers were not used to the unusually secure environment needed by NZDF. Examples include multiple data centres with full lights-out capacity; a N+1 redundancy power solution; back-up generators, a secure IT facility for the processing of classified material; audio visual, meeting and conference centres; pre-action sprinklers and VESDA fire protection; and the need for some staff to have access to multiple networks with separation requirements.
AS/NZS 3080 and 3084 cabling standards have been implemented and as a result Hitchcock says NZDF support officers know where every computer is.
“People can’t even open the doors and take a screw out of a rack without us knowing about it, and the cable of one network may not even be allowed to touch the cable of another. I can’t recommend a structured cabling solution highly enough,” says Hitchcock.
Once again though, he says change management is important. An integrated cable network has been placed into the ceilings of the new building, with all cable tops colour coded.
The new building holds five datacentres, which are independent of each other, purely because of the security requirements associated with the data that is processed, he says. Hitchcock can’t go into why different classifications are needed, but he says that the Defence Force needs to maintain a level of accreditation, to be able to operate with and interconnect with its allies. APC’s InfrastruXure datacentre solution helped the organisation ensure that accreditation, he says.
The datacentres can also be monitored remotely, using APC technology, which has freed up time for IT staff to focus on fixing user problems rather than worrying what is going on in the datacentre, says Hitchcock.
All computer rooms and telecommunication closets are monitored and information is reported in real time to operators, using a GUI-based reporting system, 24 hours a day, he says.
The self-monitoring system is quite intelligent in how it alerts staff to problems as they arrive, before they affect the end-user, says Hitchcock.
The main datacentre is “pretty much lights out”, he says. People only go in there to change tapes or fix something that is physically broken, he says.
The remote management system also controls heat, humidity and water in the building, and allows staff to see remotely if there are any issues, for example with power or battery issues, before it becomes a real problem, he says.
Having the system accessible online was critical to the move as the new datacentres had to be set up and running while the machines were migrated over. The old building was still working too, while staff migrated to the new building.
Another benefit of the new system is the reporting functionality, which allows Hitchcock and his team to find out exactly how much power individual servers use — you could drill down to power usage per rack in the datacentre if you wanted to, says Hitchcock.
But the biggest benefit for Hitchcock was that he could give APC his requirements, and APC’s engineers then came back with a solution that was working, within budget and within time, he says. For example, some of the datacentres have unique security requirements around power. To solve that problem, APC took an off-the-shelf product and added some components to build a new solution, he says.
So was it all worth it? Hitchcock is relieved he can now report the benefits. “We had zero system downtime, the installation was well planned and implemented. We now have the best of the best data centre, telephony, security and audio visual equipment – and staff no longer spend huge amounts of time on data centre problems.”
Richard Hitchcock, senior project manager for IT and Telephony, New Zealand Defence Force, was a speaker at the CIO New Zealand Conference 2007 organised by Fairfax Business Media.
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