Runner-up in the Association of Local Government Information Management’s (ALGIM) Customer Experience Awards 2017, Waimakariri District Council (WDC) knows a thing or two about customer experience. But extending its prowess with traditional customer service to the digital realm required a serious technology overhaul.
The council’s hardware and server platforms were frayed around the edges, a situation further complicated by a decade’s worth of ad hoc server growth, the Canterbury earthquakes, and a new ERP system. Too many systems were past their use-by date, and it was making council CIO Jolanda Simon nervous.
“We felt vulnerable – our situation was too risky. Things were breaking and taking a long time to fix, and there were knock-on effects in all directions,” she said.
The council’s business improvement strategy pointed the way forward, making efficient and reliable fit for purpose service-based infrastructure a priority. Suring up backend systems would stabilise core ERP and Microsoft platforms, and provide a robust disaster recovery platform.
“IaaS paves the way for customer-centric service delivery.”Jolanda Simon, CIO, Waimakariri District Council.
Numbers stack up
Before council plans could take flight, Ms Simon needed to know the numbers stacked up. Replacing like-with-like technology was one thing, but finding and hiring skills required to manage computing infrastructure in-house was quite another.
The case for IaaS was overwhelming. Rising uptake of IaaS among both central and local government provided further confirmation, opening the door to a closed tender process for AoG panel providers, and one non-AoG supplier, from which CCL emerged the victor.
With ‘tin’ off its hands, WDC production systems, storage, and backups run in virtual environments from CCL’s Christchurch-based data centre, with CCL’s data centre in Trentham providing a ready-to-go DR platform.
WDC’s core infrastructure might be out of the picture, but Ms Simon and her IT team still have the full picture, thanks to CCL’s cloud dashboard, CloudCreator. Hands firmly on the controls, council administrators spin up servers, connect storage, manage access to individual cloud services, and report costs.
“It’s easy for people to say storage is cheap, but now we can tell exactly how much it’s costing us. It’s incredibly useful,” said ICT team leader David Sewell.
Into the swing of their new infrastructure operating model, WDC has consolidated 70 servers to just 39. It also turns the dials up and down to regulate available capacity, and works with pricing and historical usage information to produce accurate forecasts of consumption. And in a surprise development, they’ve come in under budget, thanks to a unit price drop for VMs.
“That’s been a real eye opener – prices do come down,” said Mr Sewell. “That’s the beauty of buying infrastructure from a large cloud supplier – you benefit from economies of scale.”
Update: One year on
A year down the track, Sewell shares his continued enthusiasm for IaaS. Everything has worked like clockwork – “Not a single outage,” he said. “The grey hairs have stopped growing.”
With tin off council’s hands, Sewell has redeployed a team member to cyber security – a move he said was far better than someone “racing around with a screwdriver in one hand and disks in the other.”
Sewell said costs had dropped by approximately $1,000 every month since operating in CCL’s IaaS cloud. Though modest in the scope of the council’s overall IT budget, the windfall represented “savings you wouldn’t make if you owned the kit or didn’t actively manage your IT”.
On this front, CCL’s CloudCreator has put Council in the driver’s seat. “Without CloudCreator we’d be flying blind,” said Sewell. Council IT administrators use CloudCreator’s dashboard to actively monitor and manage servers and storage, adjusting allocations of RAM and disc to reflect actual usage.
In one instance, the council was able to reduce 16 GB of available RAM specified by a software vendor to just 8 GB, without impacting application performance. In a similar vein, when 5 GB of data sits on a 100 GB drive, Council dials back disc allocation.
“We can look at things and adjust RAM and storage to see the savings we’d make,” said Sewell. “I knew that when you operate in the cloud you need to actively manage things. That’s the beauty of CloudCreator.”
Sewell said improved visibility would help instil a new attitude to IT, which many staff often viewed as a utility that was “free”. The perception in part stems from the traditional model of IT ownership, where consuming more capacity on existing infrastructure doesn’t appear to add direct cost.
“A consumption model allows you to pinpoint actual costs, right down to specific projects. It’s a different way of thinking,” said Sewell. “You don’t need all the specs – because it’s really easy to add more capacity when you need it and take it away when you don’t.”
Ms Simon and her team sleep at night, knowing council systems and information are safe, a DR plan is in place, and they’re in control of infrastructure consumption and costs. The council’s business improvement strategy now has the base from which to launch new initiatives, including workplace mobility, as the ICT team gears up to deliver.
With tin off its hands and systems in the cloud, WDC turns attention to business improvements.
CloudCreator provides dashboard controls to dial up capacity for new projects and scale things back in quiet times – and the costs are crystal clear.
Creaky tin is no longer limiting customer facing technology initiatives. WDC commands the scale and platform flexibility to integrate new applications and development tools.
With its data centre and supporting infrastructure out of the picture, WDC has effectively removed IT assets from its balance sheet.