Queensland Urban Utilities plots IT breakaway

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Queensland Urban Utilities plots IT breakaway

To move off council infrastructure in less than a year.

Queensland Urban Utilities is finalising plans for a 'lift-and-shift' of its entire ICT environment to outsourcers, breaking away from the council systems it has used while in start-up mode.

The water distributor-retailer, created on 1 July 2010, is nearing selection of a primary managed service provider to operate its data centre, desktop, application hosting, service desk and LAN/WAN environment. It is also in the final stages of tendering for a managed network provider.

Until now, it has consumed ICT services from Brisbane and Ipswich City Councils -- two of the five councils that own Queensland Urban Utilities -- under a start-up arrangement.

"We're currently operating off service level agreements where our underpinning councils provide ICT services," Queensland Urban Utilities chief information officer Nina Meyers says.

Although breaking away from those council systems was always envisaged, it will occur sooner than anticipated at start-up in 2010.

The original service level agreements with councils were for a three-year term, with possible extensions to ensure "a nice orderly exit" from the council environments.

However, ICT priorities at Brisbane City Council – Queensland Urban Utilities' main host - have changed significantly since the utility started up in 2010, culminating in a $353 million consolidation of 62 systems announced last week.

"With Brisbane City Council progressing their own work, they've indicated that [SLA extensions are] probably not going to be possible, so we've got a bit of a time crunch [to move away]," Meyers says.

"Us being in the mix there causes [Brisbane] some level of contention in terms of requirements, so we've agreed to be off their environment by 30 June 2013."

Meyers has utmost respect for the councils that allowed Queensland Urban Utilities to sit on their respective ICT environments during start-up.

It's not the first time she has overseen an arrangement of this nature.

Meyers was formerly CIO of Allconnex Water, which ran water services for Gold Coast, Logan and Redlands City Councils, and initially ran off a similar ICT arrangement.

At the same time, she says she is "mindful that the councils have their own objectives and goals, and that really drives our steady exit from their environment".

Breaking away

Queensland Urban Utilities' so-called Separation Program isn't run by IT but by a program director reporting straight to CEO Ian Maynard. However, IT input into the program is significant.

Meyers chairs the project control group for five of the nine Seperation Program projects. They include Foundation Services, WAN, telephony and the managed services platform tender.

"I'm essentially the sponsor of a number of those projects under the program," she says.

"Obviously it's a huge program of work, but IT is specifying our requirements to that program, and I've got numerous business-as-usual type resources that are seconded into the program as well."

Meyers sees all projects under the Separation Program of work being "technology-related" - because they involve some aspect of "pulling up a legacy environment" and transporting it onto a new Queensland Urban Utilities-run infrastructure.

However, some projects - such as the lift-and-shift of the organisation's enterprise resource planning environment, a mix of Ellipse and Oracle products - are chaired by other executives.

In the case of ERP, Chief Financial Officer Louise Dudley is overseer.

Although there is some appetite within the business to consolidate systems - such as ERP - the tight timeframe means that work will occur in future phases beyond June 2013.

"Essentially we've got just under a year now," Meyers says.

"The program has involved all sorts of things - internal planning, analysis done by Brisbane City Council, understanding the integration between the various applications, and engaging with the vendors themselves."

Although some "preliminary data analysis" has been performed, it's undecided how much data will be migrated across to the new environment.

"From a user or organisational point of view, we would dearly love to data-migrate everything, but with that comes cost and time," Meyers says.

"The executive leadership team is working through a range of legacy applications and the data that underpins those to determine whether we 'lift-and-shift' the data and do significant parts of data migration, or whether we essentially back up the data at a point in time and then move forward without some of that historical data.

"It really depends on the application."

Read on for Queensland Urban Utilities' ICT strategy redraft and its future transformation plans.

Meyers inherited a draft ICT strategy when she joined Queensland Urban Utilities in March this year. She is currently spearheading a redraft of that strategy.

Strategic changes over the past six to nine months - including the decision to move to continue outsourcing commodity ICT services, and the Separation Program - needed to be woven into the existing strategy document.

"We're currently in the position at the moment of redrafting our ICT strategy," Meyers says.

"Really what I've tried to encapsulate in that strategy and the underpinning business plan is the need for us to mature up our ICT services internally.

"Getting the right organisation structure in place, appropriate governance, the right policy framework, and improving maturity so that by the time we're engaging with the managed provider, we'll be working in alignment with the better practices of ITIL, PRINCE2".

The existing ICT team is "reasonably lean", given most functions are currently provided by Brisbane City Council, although Meyers says she has some internal help desk staff.

"My team will very much still retain the skills of strategy, architecture, business analysis, testing, policy, governance," she says.

Managed world

Queensland Urban Utilities is hoping to name a primary managed services provider in the coming months, after which it can begin the process of 'lift-and-shift'.

It's likely that the provider will be asked to manage a multi-sourced environment that allows Queensland Urban Utilities to take advantage of various as-a-service products.

Meyers expects to see process efficiency benefits from establishing more direct control over Queensland Urban Utilities' ICT environment and from contracts negotiated with flexible terms.

"What we're looking at in terms of vendors is really being able to flex our cost model based on efficiencies, so if we need to ramp up a project and consume more services we can do that, if we need to scale down to a more baseline level of services we can do that as well," she says.

"It puts a lot more control in our hands in that space.

Future transformation

Once the 'lift-and-shift' is complete, there are plans to explore consolidation of systems, such as database technologies and ERP.

The company's use of three database technologies could be consolidated to one, "reducing our costs in that space", Meyers says.

"There's certainly a desire to re-look at a lot of these systems in due course."

She sees the post-June 2013 timeframe as a chance to "really get our ducks all lined up to get on with transformation".

"We'll have an orderly approach to either replacing systems or upgrading those systems that we decide will stay in our environment," she says.

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