Snowy River Council faced a common challenge for local government. On one hand, they had a growing population and an increasing demand for services to be delivered online; on the other they faced tight budgetary restraints and constituent pressure not to increase rates over normal Consumer Price Index (CPI) rises. By rationalising their IT environment and standardising on the Microsoft platform, they were able to increase operational efficiencies, improve compliance in document management and deliver essential services online in a manageable secure environment.
Snowy River Shire is situated in the southeast corner of New South Wales, 150 kilometres south of Canberra and about half-way between Sydney and Melbourne. While the shire's permanent population is more than 7,200, this number swells to some 20,000 in the ski season. The council employs 120 staff across six locations. The shire boasts the fifth-highest growth rate of all the local government areas in New South Wales and the town of Jindabyne is the second-fastest growing urban area in NSW, with many of its property owners residing in Sydney.
This placed the council in the position of having two key challenges: firstly, a growing demand for their services on a constrained budget; and secondly, the need for essential services, such as development applications, rates payments and so on to be delivered online.
To meet these needs, the council knew they would need to overhaul their IT systems. Snowy River Council Information Communication Technology Manager, Matthew O’Sullivan, comments: “Over the years, we had accumulated more than 75 unique desktop computers and two servers, none of which could communicate effectively with each other. These disparate systems were also proving expensive to maintain. The problem was brought to a head in 2003 when the supplier of the council's core business system announced it intended to cease support in 2005, prompting us to review our entire IT solution.”
After an in-depth investigation, the Snowy River Shire Council decided to standardise on the Microsoft platform across their environment and so all council staff were equipped with desktop and notebook computers running Microsoft® Windows® XP.
This enabled them to deploy a Microsoft-based suite of human resources, payroll, rating and property management and work, GIS mapping and asset management solutions from TechnologyOne complemented with the NetCat Online content management system, MapInfo and Total Records Information Management (TRIM), which provide integrated document management capabilities including automatic storage and disposal scheduling.
Matthew O’Sullivan, comments: “These Microsoft-based applications integrate tightly across our environment and have consistent interfaces, reducing staff training and support requirements, which is critical when you have a small IT team of two looking after 120 desktop and notebook PCs.”
For the network, the council installed a 10 MBps Wide Area Network fibre optic link, which allowed them to migrate their ageing phone system, providing a significant cost saving and increased functionality. As part of this innovation, they also incorporated full network monitoring for all council sites with the new IP-based telephone system. The next phase will be to integrate the features of Microsoft® Office Outlook® and other mobile solutions into various council workers’ hand-held devices, to improve customer service with greater accountability and more points of communication. The council’s offices at Berridale include a IBM eServer® BladeCenter™ with 12 Intel® processor-based Blade servers and an IBM TotalStorage® Storage Area Network (SAN) for centralised data storage running Microsoft® Windows Server™ 2003, Microsoft® Exchange Server 2003 and Microsoft® SQL Server™ 2003.
Data archived on this solution is backed up to a remote disaster recovery site 30 kilometres away at Jindabyne, allowing the council to have business continuity in the event of a major disaster, such as a bushfire. Microsoft SQL Server 2003 will enable bi-directional real time synchronisation, so data can be backed up in real time. This architecture will help council to protect data in line with current and future legislative; for example, records and archiving under the NSW State General Disposal Authority (GDA) 10 legislation that enforces the archiving of public information and correspondence.
Council staff have been able to streamline the management of assets and financial data using just one application which does away with cumbersome manual systems and double entry. Because the system can manage travel requisitions and inventory as well as procurement, the council can consolidate payments across all of their accounts, streamlining their internal processes. In addition, managers can glean timely business intelligence because data can be updated in real time and a variety of analytical reports can be processed to provide in-depth views of assets and financials, giving them the information they need to make accurate decisions. Matthew O’Sullivan comments: “Microsoft technology has enabled us to move from manual time sheets for staff hours to electronic time sheets, which has increased efficiency and made staff more accountable. “Another key improvement is that management can see real time, analytical statistics from various department. For example, they can monitor development applications to ensure they meet council guidelines.
“This provides management with more detail and more up-to-date figures, ensuring they make more informed decisions. Another software application residing on the Microsoft® Windows Server™ 2003 is ProclaimOne. This property management and regulatory applications suite helps council manage property, rates and regulates all process-driven applications such as certificates and development applications for council. In one application, council staff can manage property and rating, water billing, receipting, debt management, regulatory management, payroll, human resource management and financial accounting. All council records, files, documents and correspondence relating to water, rates property management and so on are stored in the Total Record Information Management (TRIM) solution which interfaces into a mapping application MapInfo featuring aerial photos and maps of the whole shire, specific regions right down to individual roads. “This has made us far more effective in the way we work,” says Matthew O’Sullivan. “When council are planning new developments, road works, land releases or any activity involving residents, officers simply click on the affected houses or streets in the mapping application, select a letter template and the system can print out a planning notification letter and address the envelope to all the highlighted houses.”
Improved Customer Services
Microsoft technologies allow Snowy River Shire Council to develop systems that enable residents to view their information online and pay rates and review and track services such as development applications – a valued facility for those ratepayers who reside primarily in Sydney. Residents can book facilities and services online such as sports fields for school carnivals and town halls for amateur productions. This information is managed in TRIM and processed by Microsoft® SQL server in the relevant system. For example, online rates payments are directed to FinanceOne, which automatically returns a confirmation on receipt of payment.
Sustaining the Local Economy
With over 2.8 million visitors annually, the Snowy Mountains region is Australia’s major inland tourist destination. To help many of the region’s tourism enterprises promote themselves, organise local events and provide first-class IT facilities, the council plans to access to its high-speed Wide Area Network. Already the Berridale telephone exchange has been given access, enabling staff there to connect the local police station and school. As well, the council has identified additional revenue opportunities through offering data storage in their disaster recovery centre as an outsourced or facilities managed service for adjacent councils. Matthew O’Sullivan comments: “With excellent remote access capabilities through Citrix® and a full Disaster Recovery site, Snowy River Shire is well-equipped to offer hosted services and facilities management for other councils. Being Microsoft end-to-end means our systems integrate with each other seamlessly. This means we can scale easily to connect third parties, add new layers to the network and manage the entire solution from one centralised location without facing escalating administration overheads”
Manageability and Reliability
One of the key benefits of the Microsoft end-to-end solution has been the management tools that enable Matthew to manage all of their desktops, notebooks and servers from the Berridale council offices.
Matthew O’Sullivan comments: “We have recently installed Remote Deployment Manager from IBM which integrates with Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) and Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) for remote automatic updates to our desktop computers at every office. “This has given us a centralised system management and desktop management for all locations; an important consideration when you have more than 9,000 square kilometres to cover and offices that are 30 kilometres apart to manage. Centralised remote computer management is essential for us to ensure we can monitor and maintain our systems efficiently.”
With 120 employees, and 100 desktops, the shire can measure the cost of system outages in many thousands of dollars an hour. Their previous system regularly suffered major disruptions between offices, so the new environment shows a great improvement in productivity and system availability. Now, with the Microsoft-based solution, systems outages are measure in seconds per month.
Microsoft Office System
Microsoft® Office is the business world's chosen environment for information work that provides the software, servers and services that help you succeed by transforming information into impact. For more information about Microsoft Office System, go to www.microsoft.com/office
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, please call 13 20 58 (Australia).
For more information about Microsoft’s local government solutions, please visit the Web site at www.microsoft.com.au/localgovernment or email email@example.com For more information about Corporate Express products and services, visit their Web site at www.ce.com.au
For more information about the Snowy River Shire Council visit www.snowyriver.nsw.gov.au