ABS CIO eases transition to VoIP

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is slowly converging its voice and data networks under the guidance of its new chief information officer, with some staff already using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony and a further pilot planned for the organisation's Queensland office.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is slowly converging its voice and data networks under the guidance of its new chief information officer, with some staff already using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony and a further pilot planned for the organisation's Queensland office.

The ABS' new CIO, Jenine Borowik, who recently stepped up to replace the promoted Jonathan Palmer, told ZDNet Australia the bureau was "slowly" undertaking convergence, having so far only deployed VoIP to a few hundred staff as it weighed up strategies for a wider rollout.

"We've got in Canberra, 300 VoIP extensions, for example. There's some in other states too," Borowik said in a telephone interview last week. "But most of the organisation has got old PABXs."

The CIO said the ABS was currently considering whether it would bring VoIP more widely to its close to 3,000 staff or just implement it slowly as different parts of the businesses needed the increased functionality VoIP provided.

"We're going to do a pilot with our Queensland office, so they'll be totally VoIP and we'll go from there," she said.

The ABS' current VoIP system is believed to be Cisco-based, with Borowik saying it integrated with the bureau's Lotus Notes/Domino collaboration suite.

Borowik said cost was a factor for any future VoIP rollout. "There's been very competitive offers from carriers in the home use space, but we haven't seen much of that in the organisational space yet," she said.

Stepping up to the role
Although Borowik's new job is primarily strategic and managerial, a background of several technology roles within the ABS ensures she maintains a strong interest in technical issues.

She praised the VMWare virtualisation software the ABS was making extensive use of in both production and development environments, and said the bureau would not be an early adopter of Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system.

The ABS had found it could use VMWare to provision new virtual environments very quickly and safely, without impacting on its production systems. "It's just given us much more flexibility," said Borowik. Particular production environments could also be isolated from each other on the same physical machine.

Regarding Microsoft's troubled Vista operating system, Borowik said the ABS' current Windows XP rollout was "working well for the business". The ABS would learn from the experiences of other, more enthusiastic government departments, she said, before upgrading to Vista.

But the business side of the CIO role is not being neglected. "We actually try not to have technology projects, if we can help it, we're more interested as an organisation in having business projects that might utilise technology," said Borowik, noting also the ABS' recently-initiated adoption of a new business process management framework.

Borowik said her approach would not differ significantly from her predecessors, "because I've been in the organisation for a fair while, and I've been part of the management team for technology".

"So my approach has been, if you like, injected into the organisation's technology approach already," she said. "Having said that, there's always new challenges, technology is just such a changeable field, that I'm sure there will be new challenges that arise over time."

Surveying Australia
Some of the other tasks on Borowik's mind at the moment include supporting the national Census and National Data Network projects.

The 2006 Census, to be held in August, will continue a trend of giving residents the option of submitting their details over the Internet.

The ABS has partnered with IBM on the solution, and expects more people to use the Internet as opposed to the long-standing paper alternative. Both New Zealand and Canada recently received favourable results from e-Census options, said Borowik, with around 20 percent of Canadians submitting online.

"The two key issues have been making sure that we've got gold-standard security," said Borowik, "and that we protect privacy."

New technology will also help the 30,000-strong field force hired for the Census to do its job, with SMS messages largely taking over from a voicemail system deployed in 2001 to direct field actions. Field supervisors will access workload management tools via Web portals.

"Each time over the decades that we've run the Census, we've made improvements based on technology," said Borowik.

The NDN is an ongoing national initiative to provide access to reliable data from the ABS and others through a common online platform.

The ABS is the lead agency in the initiative, and has developed a platform based on open source technology to meet the project's business requirements.

"We've deliberately chosen an open source stack, and that's so that organisations can be involved without necessarily having to go and purchase something," said Borowik.

The NDN platform uses tools such as Java, the Eclipse development environment, the Apache Web server and the MySQL database.

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