Quality on parade in government ICT awards

Tonight's the night for government IT, with a winner to be announced in Wellington

The government sector is always a busy hub of ICT development. Policy and structural changes and improvements simply have to be expressed through quality systems for policy goals to be achieved in a timely and efficient manner.

The 2009 Excellence in the Use of ICT in Government Awards, sponsored by Hewlett-Packard, this year will highlight those efforts. A bumper crop of 16 entries were received and judges then whittled these down to four finalists: the Department of Internal Affairs for its IID09 BDM Family History project; Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) for its Landonline project; the Ministry for the Environment for its Land Use and Carbon Analysis System (LUCAS) project; and the Department of Corrections, for its joint project to manage the unauthorised use of mobile phones in prison.

Carbon tracker

Environment’s Land Use and Carbon Analysis System (LUCAS) is built to meet New Zealand’s domestic and international reporting obligations, including the Kyoto Protocol, to measure and report the level of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere by forests and soils following land use change from 2008 to 2012 inclusive.

The data is benchmarked against the position in 1990, to help determine whether New Zealand has a carbon deficit or is in credit.

LUCAS uses three main components. The first is geospatial, using satellite imagery that has been geo-referenced and classified to produce land use maps of New Zealand in 1990, 2008 and later in 2012. It uses the ESRI ArcGIS suite to compare the present maps. There is currently 4TB of image data, which is expected to grow to 12TB by the programme completion, in 2015.

The second is the Gateway database, which stores data captured from plots in the forest estate and soils. This is used to estimate the amount of carbon sequestered by trees. Gateway is about 4GB, with 500,000 records from Environment’s field data collection processes.

The third component is a calculation and reporting application that brings together the first two and runs models to produce a set of numbers that are input to a common reporting format for tabling at the United Nations.

This National Inventory Report is produced annually. It includes data from other agencies, measuring emissions and removals from sectors such as transport, agriculture and energy.

Mapping land use in New Zealand to meet the National Inventory Report and Kyoto requirements had not been done before, so new algorithms had to be defined to automatically classify each polygon of land use revealed by the satellite imagery. A bespoke application was also built to capture metadata.

The ministry says LUCAS has identified and is reporting a surplus with the Kyoto Asset that sits on the Crown accounts. Until LUCAS delivered some of its data, the account was in deficit by $544 million. Currently, there is an estimated surplus of $215 million.

The ministry notes that one of the challenges was pulling together the right team. A combination of project management and other specialist IT resources was contracted to work alongside ministry subject matter experts to deliver LUCAS. Another challenge was managing the Minister’s expectations of what LUCAS would and would not deliver.

Call blocker

When the Department of Corrections decided it needed to block cellphone calls within prison property, it faced the challenge of precise blockage, so the cellphones of nearby neighbours weren’t affected. That’s because many prisons in New Zealand are sited in large cities and towns with close neighbours.

The objectives of the project were to stop prisoners communicating with non-authorised people, using mobile phones to communicate with external associates with a view to escape or orchestrating crime, and ensuring prison security is maintained.

The department says the project has greatly reduced criminal activity from within prisons.

The project was a joint venture with Telecom and Vodafone because they own the spectrum. The telcos provided information to allow jamming to be successful on their networks and audited the installation to ensure leakage was identified and resolved.

Twenty possible solutions were identified and evaluated; three were selected for implementation and two used. Each prison site had to be taken through the appropriate design, implementation, testing and tuning process.

Corrections says there were a huge number of challenges. The telco and departmental engineers all had to learn how to block cellphones while working on the project and, initially at least, a number of groups objected to the use of jamming. Information requested by the telcos was confidential, and all staff had to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements. Further, technical interference can affect jammers, so many tests were performed to reduce such impacts.

The department notes that prisoners have been active in attacking jamming equipment, so it has had to be hardened or hidden in secure locations.

The Corrections project team is now supporting countries such as Australia and Fiji, which are interested in implementing cellular jamming.

Online cost saver

Landonline is the official online service for surveyors, lawyers and other professionals to search and lodge title dealings and survey data digitally. Users transact in real time, saving days compared to the previous paper-based system.

There is a database of the underlying description of land in a cadastral survey as well as providing information on each property: for example, its registered owner and interests.

Landonline is provided over the internet using Citrix thin client architecture. Users subscribe to the system depending on their business needs. There are three main services: e-search, e-survey and e-dealing. Today, Landonline has 11,000 users, who average around 14,000 log-ons each day.

LINZ says the technology provides a platform where only 3 percent of transactions are not able to be electronically submitted. Public counters were able to be closed in February this year, and three of five processing centres will be closed by 2012. Processing staff numbers have been reduced from 350 to 150.

There were four major Landonline releases between June 2007 and September 2008, which included the necessary application changes to enable 100 percent e-lodgement.

LINZ says the nature of the application delivery is unique and deploys an application to users who are not government employees.

Among the benefits are faster turn-around times for property transactions; lower transaction costs; up-to-date, higher quality and easily searchable land information data; and licensed surveyors and solicitors updating the land register directly in real time.

A survey in August found that Landonline had delivered significant benefits. Customers felt it was easier for their businesses to access information, and immediate registration of title made it easier to provide a quality service; most felt it less likely that documents would be lost.

Record delivery

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) has developed a website that allows users in New Zealand and overseas to search historical birth, death and marriage records online, at no cost; view limited data for the record they are interested in or for other records returned in their search results; and to purchase products related to the records they have chosen.

It replaces the time-consuming manual processes.

An earlier back-capture process had scanned all pre-1998 births, deaths and marriages physical registers. These records were added to the existing database.

The online solution required new functionality and the project had to integrate with or build functions to replicate the Lifedata data sets into a new database, to give customers fast searching capability without impacting the Lifedata operational system, and to automatically delete closed records out of the database to ensure no one else could accidentally stumble upon any closed or sensitive records.

DIA notes that 75,000 people are now searching historic records online each month, and it is processing around 4500 electronic orders from the website each month.

A nine-month delivery plan was originally developed, but due to legislative requirements the project was delivered within seven months. It meant managing four major vendors, three other vendors and the internal integration teams within that tight time frame. In the first 12 hours after going live there were more than 80,000 searches, with just 184 timing out; the site has never crashed.

What the judges said:

• Department of Corrections

“Australian prison administrators did not believe the project would be successful but are now exploring the use of the same approach in Australian prisons. Officials from other countries including England, Scotland, Germany, and Thailand, are seeking help and advice from Corrections about implementing this approach.”

• Land Information NZ

“The judges consider that LINZ deserves credit for driving 100 percent compliance to the use of Landonline as part of the long term transformation from manual processing. The LINZ approach demonstrated both vision and fortitiude.”

• Department of Internal Affairs

“The judges commended DIA for demonstrating the power of commercialising public information in a judicious and credible manner. This is a paradigm shift.”

• Ministry for the Environment

“The judges believe that LUCAS should provide an excellent case study demonstrating the combination of creativity, science, ICT and business – a great example of NZ Inc.”

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