SA council lends sister city a hand in clouds

By Lilia Guan
Mt Barker District Council has helped its sister city of Kokopo in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to improve its rates and garbage collection services, with cloud-based technology. 
The City of Kokopo has a population of about 26000 and has been the administrative centre for the island of East New Britain, between the Bismarck and Solomon seas, since volcanoes devastated neighbouring island, Rabaul in 1994.
Mt Barker General Manager Corporate Services, David Peters told Government News capital is 1000 kilometres north-east of Port Moresby and one of the most isolated cities in PNG and its solely reliant on wireless broadband for its internet connection to the outside world. 
Mt Barker needed to help bring the council’s failed rate collection system up to speed after Kokopo was financially bailed out by the PNG Government. 
“Copper wire doesn’t last long in PNG before people dig it up to sell. PCs are riddled with viruses,” he said.
Mr Peters said conditions are basic and the power supply often drops out and ocal IT support that doesn’t charge astronomically is non-existent.
“When we were looking at working with Kokopo in late 2011, we realised the difficulties of setting up and supporting an on-premise server,” he said.
“The cost and time of a week or more involved in travelling to and from PNG meant the project would have failed without a different approach.”
The funding provided to Mt Barker through Ausaid for the project, covered the cost supplying new hardware to Kokopo but not the administration or travel costs.
“The cost of the council travelling to the island would cost about the same as a trip to London, because of its remote location,” he said.
Mr Peters spoke to Mt Barker’s technology partner, Telstra about the situation and it suggested using its software-as-a-service portal – Telstra T-Suite and to purchase Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud productivity and collaboration solution.
Mt Barker bought 15 Office 365 seats, giving key staff at both councils access to the Microsoft products of Office Professional, SharePoint Online, Lync and Exchange Online, in always-up-to-date cloud versions and for a predictable monthly subscription.
“After confirming internet access suitable to connect to Microsoft SharePoint Online during the trial of Office 365 using a wireless connection in PNG, we moved forward with provisioning of suitable hardware and infrastructure,” Mr Peters said.
He said staff from Kokopo were flown out to Mt Barker and trained how to use the new system.
“We also sent them back with the new equipment because if we mailed them the computers it could end up water logged,” Mr Peters said.
The council now communicates with the staff from Kokopo regularly via videoconferencing.
“Other than a 20 second delay here or there it’s like we are having a meeting with them in the room,” Mr Peters said.
The cloud infrastructure has opened also opened Mr Peters’ eyes for other possibilities within council.
“This technology now that I have seen it, felt it and used it has opened up other possibilities within council,” he said.
According to Mr Peters, who previously worked in the corporate sector where the agendas had two or three page minutes, however due to the bueracracy in government the paper for minutes is enormous.
“We have an elected official who drives out and delivers the agendas to the relevant council members,” he said.
“It’s interesting because the bill for photocopying and printing at a small council is the equivalent to that of maintaining a small car.”

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