by Rodney Gedda

ACMA’s Business Transformation Journey

Apr 01, 2010
GovernmentGovernment IT

Trashing a truck-load of old equipment and physically cleaning up rooms may not be indicative of the average IT transformation project, but the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) took a ground-up approach to modernising its business processes.

“It was a big clean,” says Carsten Larsen, executive manager of information services at ACMA. “From a technology standpoint we started with a maxi skip and threw out of a whole skip full of stuff.”

Afterwards, ACMA had its cabling re-done and even picked pieces of foil off the computer room floor. “With IT, it’s like a doctor’s surgery,” Larsen says. “If you walk in and it’s filthy are you going to get heart surgery done there?”

ACMA was formed from the 2005 merger of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Communications Authority, and Larsen says the organisation continued to operate very disparate systems which still worked in silos. ACMA’s vision, however, was to be the best converged regulator by the end of 2010, and Larsen knows that to achieve this will require a great deal of IT transformation effort. “From a business process and systems perspective there is a lot of work to be done,” he says.

An early stop along the transformation road was a change of the main outsourced service provider, which had been contracted for the past five years but had “not done a good job” and lagged behind with technology upgrades Larsen says. Larsen, now six months into his tenure, presides over a hybrid outsourcing model where the service desk is managed in-house and the infrastructure is owned by ACMA.

“Under the new agreement we have taken the service desk in house. They manage the infrastructure, but we own it and have more input as to how it is managed,” he says.

Larsen spent his first six months getting the people, infrastructure and database layer right and is now moving onto business applications, which will begin with process flow changes and the installation of new management systems.

At the infrastructure level, ACMA reviewed its existing virtualisation platform, upgraded its desktops to Windows 7 and put in a plan for moving all its storage on a SAN and disk for backup, with tape archives performed monthly. A disaster recovery plan was also put in place where the business can be transferred to Melbourne if the main Canberra site went down. This was imperative because, along with the Tax Office and Customs, ACMA raises a lot of revenue for the federal government.

“We upgraded the virtualisation platform and are now looking at driving down infrastructure costs,” Larsen says. “VMware is expensive and we are already paying for Hyper-V, so we will migrate to it in the next few months.”

ACMA is looking to reduce its 80 servers to 10 with a pool of virtual servers Larsen describes as “much more resilient” than physical servers alone. The main server platform will be Windows Server, and a Solaris platform that is “out of date” will be replaced it with new servers running Solaris or an alternative. ACMA will also move to IPv6 internally.

“We’re making sure everyone gets the right information and to do that you have to have the right infrastructure and people — you have to build a house on a solid foundation,” Larsen says. “The underlying technology is not hard.” With this foundation in place, Larsen hopes ACMA will allow itself to be more innovative with technology. Upgrades to Exchange 2010 and SharePoint are on the cards with the aim of being more flexible.

ACMA is already using SaaS “quite successfully” in a number of places and Larsen says “in the right place it’s the right thing to do, but in some places it is not”.

“I provide applications and I don’t care where they come from. If we don’t have the technology skills then we will use SaaS,” he says.

In keeping with the SaaS paradigm, ACMA recently hired someone to focus on social media services and how they can be leveraged to connect with the public.

“We want to open up our data so it’s more accessible to third-party integrators,” Larsen says. “Access to information like ‘where is the nearest mobile phone tower’ and ‘what is the television signal strength like’ will mean a more personal approach to our clients.”

Larsen says in the Web 1.0 world CIOs would be caught up in corporate information, so ACMA might use Web 2.0 technologies to “get the message out to people”.

To facilitate more data sharing, ACMA is also embarking on a complete SOA implementation, the framework for which is being designed and implemented using Microsoft BizTalk Server. This may also help reduce ACMA’s application count. “We want to get 35 applications down to 25 over the next three years,” Larsen says.

With so many changes going on, Larsen is fortunate that IT didn’t have to “fight for funding”, partly because people at ACMA wanted the change.

“Over the past two years there was a lot of planning done for the change,” he says. “The project board is getting behind the change and there is strong commitment from the chairman down.”

Larsen says ACMA adheres to the Prince2 standard for project management and its development is centred around agile methodologies.

Finding the right people is always a challenge, and the limited supply of people in Canberra add to the problem, but Larsen is optimistic ACMA can continue to attract talented staff.

“Unfortunately the unemployment rate is three per cent, but the thing about IT is that if people are excited about coming to work you will get the best people,” he says. “People want to work where things are moving forward.”

“It is more difficult to find people in Canberra, but we are spread across Sydney and Melbourne as well,” Larsen says. “Is it easy to find good people? No. But is it possible? The answer is a definite yes.”

What has Larsen learned as a CIO of a government department? For one, governments are big on processes. “Being in government, the process has significant value and has to be of high-quality,” he says. “I need to put more time in what I do to ensure process is adhered to.”