Remote IT support overcomes tyranny of distance

Isolated schools and police stations in Western Australia are benefitting from remotely-provided computing services

Western Australia’s sparse population has forced the state government’s various IT departments to aggressively pursue remote monitoring and management solutions to reduce the need for on-site support staff at schools and police stations.

To illustrate the kind of challenges faced by these organisations, WA’s Department of Education and Training must provide IT services to 791 school sites spread across an area of about 2.2 million square kilometres.

The department’s infrastructure and telecommunications ICT manager, Glenn Veen, joined in 2000 when there was no centralised infrastructure for the state’s schools.

Since then, Veen has adopted a standard operating environment (SOE) policy along with software to centrally manage the network. “We now have 70% of schools with 10Mbit/s broadband [but] how do we know what’s being used and how do we manage it?” Veen asks, adding that few people want to go out to the remote schools to do IT work.

“I started using node manager in 1995 [and] now [the department] has at least six products from HP. We can manage the network and have solutions at all levels so notebooks are managed centrally.”

The department is now deploying SOEs to 200 schools for a fully managed operating environment with no technician on-site. Supplying patching and networking support can be done remotely now.

“We’re almost proactive and know where faults are coming from before the schools know,” Veen says. “About 130 schools are fully managed and the quality of service is good.”

The requirement for on-site support is also being reduced with the provision of centralised services like email, identity management and content delivery.

“We are now driving sustainable technology and without HP would not be able to see it,” he says.

The tyranny of distance also affects IT support at WA’s remote police stations.

Speaking on behalf of WA Police, Fujitsu Australia’s senior consultant, Paula Smith, says distance is one of the challenges software providers have when dealing with WA’s government.

“We faced this challenge five years ago when WA Police was replacing its mainframe because it was a whole-of-business project — the police knew how to use it and every police station needs to use the incident management system,” Smith says.

With a requirement to interface with the state’s Department of Justice and Department of Planning and Infrastructure, and 16 projects converging at the same time, Fujitsu’s challenge was to find a tool to improve the quality of the new applications.

Smith’s previous experience, with Mercury Interactive’s Test Director at BankWest, helped in Fujitsu’s decision to choose the product to “help make my job easier”. (Mercury Interactive is now owned by HP).

“When we went live we had all the right information and didn’t want the SAS knocking down the wrong door.” She adds that HP’s Quality Centre has helped put in applications with low defect rates.

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