by Jennifer O'Brien

Exclusive: City of Monash leaps towards virtualisation and cloud

Jul 07, 2016
Cloud Computing

The City of Monash has embarked on a massive transformation project to upgrade its entire IT environment in a push towards virtualisation and the cloud.

City of Monash ICT manager, Stephen Peatling, who has been with Monash for one year told CIO Australia the council has undergone a complete review of its ICT environment.

“I was asked to come in and do a review of the ICT systems here at the City of Monash. I found that some infrastructure and applications needed to be brought up to date. The organisation was workstation based with very little mobility. We had a very physical server environment in our datacentre of 42 physical servers with very little virtualisation on a Hyper V environment.”

Once assessing the environment, Peatling started to virtualise the datacentre and was able to reduce the number of servers from 42 down to six blade servers.

“We have virtualised on a VMware platform and we have migrated all of our servers from Microsoft Windows Server 2003 to 2008 and 2012 across the board,” he said.

Peatling, who is tasked with determining strategic direction, policy, service level and standards relating to all IT issues, said the steps taken towards virtualisation and the cloud was a major endeavour – and one that was sparked by the council’s need to beef up its disaster recovery.

“To migrate all of those servers over to a virtual platform took about three to four months. We are using EMC for our storage environment. Part of that process and the reason why we went down the virtualisation path was because we wanted to move our disaster recovery (DR) to a cloud solution.

“We have now implemented a DR system in the cloud and are partnered with Thomas Duryea,” he said, explaining the system has been in place for one month.

“We can now get the organisation operational if a disaster was called within 30 minutes. This is a great achievement for Monash.”

Key results

The latest technology implementation is enabling council in many areas, Peatling said, explaining access and mobility are two big business and technology changes.

“There was no single sign-on when I got here so everybody had to log into every application using different user names and passwords. We’ve had a complete Active Directory (AD) upgrade and single sign-on for the organisation and now all of our applications are referring back to AD: one user name and password.”

Additionally, Wi-Fi was installed throughout the main buildings, and Microsoft Surfaces were introduced.

“We have rolled out Surfaces to our councillors and executive team, and a few managers in corporate services, and we are seeing a great change in the way people are working. People are now coming to meetings (executive and council meetings) with their mobile devices and referring to them instead of carrying chunky agendas and papers.”

He said council is slowly seeing the importance and power of mobility.

Next steps

Peatling said now that the infrastructure is up to date (going from six racks in the datacentre down to two), the next step is to analyse applications and move to a digital architecture.

“We are implementing an EDRMS system in the organisation, using HP TRIM. There’s been little investment or strategic development in our existing core applications, such as Pathway for our property and rating and other core council applications.” As such, he is going through and reviewing modules of core applications and moving towards the latest versions.

But the work doesn’t stop there as Peatling has also hatched a new business analyst unit.

“We are trying to bridge the gap between applications and the user and bring those two together so we can develop those applications from a mobility and modular function point of view, looking at process mapping and procedure mapping. By bringing those processes together, we can develop these applications for our internal users.”

And while he acknowledged council is in the early stages of its digital transformation push, Peatling said his strategy is to deliver more mobility and enable access to real-time data, and also deliver customer service initiatives.

“What do our customers want to see from council? What can they access online? Or what do they want to access online? Those are some of the things that we are looking at as well.”

Council is also getting set to launch a new payments system in four months.

“We are bringing all of our payments on one page and using our e-services internally to do that, and that is something we are putting through the testing regime at the moment. It will be completely different for the end users, our customers to go to one place, make a payment, and set up a one-stop shop for customer service when it comes to payments.”

Lessons learned

Looking back over the project, Peatling said it has been a rewarding experience given there’s been “massive changes” for the council.

“I came in with a fairly large ICT strategy for the organisation and worked with our executive leadership team to put the strategy in place.”

And now that the project is reaping benefits and well underway, Peatling said he is excited to see the changes come into effect.“We have achieved a hell of a lot in nine months.”

The project is all about people, process and technology, he added.

“Working with our customers internally and externally to see what they want from ICT, looking at their processes and how they do that, and then finding the appropriate technology to actually support them with that – and once we get that across the line we will be in really good shape here at Monash.”

He takes away one major lesson, which is while change can be a struggle and hard to facilitate, the users eventually embrace it and recognise the beneficial uses of the technology.

“Having really good communication with end users and respecting them is so important. You have to understand that of course end users might not really see the benefits of what we are trying to deliver until we actually deliver, so it is completely understandable when people are hesitant about change. . . I realised that it was me who needed to change. I needed to slow down. As a team, we needed to start working with the users more closely and now we are delivering great outcomes – and now they are asking for further ICT enhancements,” he said.