Govt agencies forge video link without DIA

NZTE and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade create joint plan for video networking with Asnet Technologies

NZ Trade and Enterprise and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have progressed their own joint plan for cloud-based high-definition video networking, at the instigation of provider Asnet Technologies, without the direct involvement of the Department of Internal Affairs, which is coordinating all-of-government ICT.

The service has been operating at NZTE and MFAT since late last year, but has recently been rebranded VideoNet Unite, with the aim of interesting other government agencies in using it as an economical way of working in collaborative clusters, says Asnet managing director Eric Greenop.

Announcing the implementation and branding, Asnet’s government sector manager, Paul Thompson says: “This is a great example of a ‘real world’ application of the Department of Internal Affairs’ guidance to ministries, to seek out Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) options when evaluating future IT requirements. These public entities are, in effect, sharing infrastructure, delivering internal value and saving money for the taxpayer."

However, the service was offered to the two agencies on Asnet’s own initiative, says Greenop, without DIA’s direct involvement. He claims the company “kept in touch” with DIA, but” DIA communications advisor Jo Watt says the move was “not DIA-endorsed”.

“There is nothing to stop agencies procuring their own technology,” DIA senior communications advisor Victoria Dew adds. “But this is nothing to do with [DIA’s all-of-government initiative]” and Thompson’s reference to DIA should not have been made, she says.

No all-of-government videoconferencing service has yet been mooted, but neither has the NZTE/MFAT effort been formally extended to a “syndicated procurement” arrangement open to all government agencies in the usual all-of-government style. Asnet, however, obviously welcomes interest from other agencies on the same terms, Greenop says.

Asked whether DIA is troubled by the development of an independent videoconferencing cluster, Dew declines to comment.

DIA chief executive and government CIO Colin MacDonald, speaking at the FutureGov conference earlier this year, said in future the barriers to agencies opting out of common all-of-government tools “will be set very high”.

No competitive tender was involved in the joint videoconferencing plan, as NZTE has been an Asnet customer since 2003 and this was considered an upgrade to the existing service and a change in the mode of delivery. MFAT came in on the deal since it shares 13 sites across the world with NZTE and there was obvious scope for economies, says Greenop.

Network switching and bridging is provided in IaaS mode. Each user site just needs the video codec, the screen and a communications link, says Greenop; hence capital expenditure is replaced with operating expenditure on a flat-fee, predictable monthly basis, he says.

Asnet offered to set up the networking service at application level on the one.govt wide-area network, but one.govt’s operators “told us we had to interface at infrastructure level”, Greenop says; so the company decided to work independently of the all-of-government networking service. NZTE’s 2003 installation of Asnet videoconferencing equipment was done on the basis of a competitive tender, says Phil Hayward, director of information technology and services. “This process was initiated well before the merger of Industry NZ and Trade NZ [to form NZTE] but was run jointly by the two agencies,” he says. “In November 2011 we signed a one-year contract with Asnet for the use of their bridging facility, to allow us to videoconference more effectively from all of our offices, national and international, with external parties – including our customers. A primary focus for this contract was also to enable the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to connect into our international video conference network. “The one year contract allows us to trial and evaluate the service while the all-of-government processes are being put in place,” Hayward says. As the contract nears its end, we’ll be re-evaluating supplier options for bridging services – obviously with the AOG framework as a key factor,” Hayward says. MFAT “can confirm that we have been using VideoNet Unite since last year,” says a statement forwarded by email from an unnamed “spokesperson”; communications account manager Sandra Ford says the ministry does not wish to comment further.