State agencies parade projects in awards

When state agencies embark on IT projects, they're typically on a scale that puts private efforts in the shade. That's certainly true of the finalists in the "Excellence in the use of IT in government" category of the Computerworld Excellence Awards, which include a couple of big-budget website developments.

When state agencies embark on IT projects, they're typically on a scale that puts private efforts in the shade. That's certainly true of the finalists in the “Excellence in the use of IT in government” category of the Computerworld Excellence Awards, which include a couple of big-budget website developments.

One of these is the creation of the Retirement Commission’s website. The commission spent just over $250,000 to create the site, enlisting the help of Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive, Dunham Bremmer Interactive, an actuary and a clinical psychologist.

With the help of plenty of advertising, the site attracted more than 200,000 unique user sessions in its first three months.

A striking feature of the project is its reliance on open source technology: the code was developed in PHP, it uses MySQL and is hosted on a Unix web server.

Statistics New Zealand is a finalist in this category by virtue of a project that replaces paper-based household surveys with a computer-assisted system. The Computer-Assisting Interviewing (CAI) project integrates survey software Blaise with the department’s Lotus Notes email and workflow tools.

Stats NZ information and technology general manager Graeme Osborne describes the result as “a nice little coming together” of two pieces of software.

“We’re a heavy user of Notes, writing full applications in it, and the challenge was combining its workflow benefits with Blaise.” Osborne says he’s not aware of Notes being used in the same way anywhere else in the world.

Interviewers carry out surveys in the field and upload questionnaires as Blaise file attachments in a Notes database via a dial-up vitual private network.

The project was done in-house by Stat NZ’s 100-strong IT team.

Another web project makes up the third and last finalist in the government category. The site for the Trade Development Board, replaced an existing static HTML effort and is part of a three-year $13 million e-business investment; $350,000 was budgeted for the web project.

KPMG Consulting had selected Vignette as content manager for the overall e-business project, so it was drafted into the website role as well.

The site is designed to cater for exporters, importers, investors and students considering studying in New Zealand.

Trade New Zealand project manager Arjan van der Boon says customisation was a key criterion of the site design.

“The aim was to personalise our visitors’ experience as much as possible, so as to encourage them to become return visitors.” The purpose of having any visitors at all is to help fulfil the board’s statutory aim of increasing the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

The website would appear to be aiding that effort: van der Boon says visitor numbers have climbed by at least 25% since the site went live.

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