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Computerworld Excellence Awards 2005: Excellence in the Use of IT in Government

Entries for the Computerworld Excellence Awards in the IT in Government category ranged from those serving the public to those back-office applications vital to ensure systems stay functioning.

Manukau's Botany library was the first to install a self-service issuing system using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in books, the aim was to free-up librarians to help library users. A comprehensive IT system was installed at the same time, featuring internet terminals — some use of these is free — called learn.net.

Developing this multifaceted project involved significant change management. Challenges faced included, initially, inadequate equipment. Software also had to be upgraded to provide an adequate RFID interface and to allow the system to identify returned books wanted by other libraries.

Although using RFID involved a learning curve as, for instance, machine readers continually re-read any items left within range, automated checkout of books has increased, resulting in efficiency gains.

NZ Fire Service’s Station Management System (SMS), another entry in the awards, manages statistics and information for operational staff, and is designed to ensure they have the right information at their various stations. SMS can profile building risk, record statistics from emergency incidents, and support community education, skills training and non-emergency task planning and management.

The aim is to use SMS to help reduce the number of fires — and their consequences — and to help the fire service respond to other emergencies.

The system was developed by Provoke Solutions and based on a Queensland system. It employs a service-oriented architecture and, using .Net and web services, interfaces with 17 other systems. It uses a mixed fat-client Citrix PC/Winterm network. Data includes evacuation schemes, a building risk register, and operational and management plans. It has allowed fire service staff to better manage non-emergency time, spending this time on fire safety and prevention initiatives.

The Ministry of Education’s entry targets school truants and is also an entry in the Computerworld Use of IT in a community project. The Early Notification System, as it is called, ties together various communications channels, including telephone messaging, email and text messages, to alert parents quickly should their children be absent without reason.

Designed using Fulcrum Technology Group's messaging product, Safe@School, along with the Integris student management system produced by Renaissance's education division, Itas, the system is fast-acting. It alerts the parents by using all communications means available and also features a quick telephone button-press means of response, which allows parents to let their child's school know if there is a reason for their absence.

The centralised messaging service provides a level of communications sophistication that would be difficult for schools to provide individually, says the ministry. The system features an XML Schema, which was developed by Itas and the ministry together, and defines how data is sent between Integris and the Fulcrum messaging system.

The fourth entry is from Transit New Zealand and is a multi-tier backup and recovery system. The system allows Transit to manage backup and restore itself, via a 100Mbps TelstraClear network link, from a remote, outsourced Storage Area Network (SAN) provided by data storage company, HdS.

Ethernet backup is cost-effective way of moving lots of data quickly, while avoiding storage channel extensions, says Transit. HdS’s datacentre can also be treated as just another node on our wide area network.

Transit undertook the project to cut back on long backup times.

“The approach means Transit gets all the benefits of outsourced business continuity capacity without relinquishing any control,” says Transit. Backups are now completed well within the 12 hour after-hours window and full weekly backups are also much quicker — down from 60 to 30 hours.

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