update Publisher and broadcaster APN News and Media (APN) is centralising parts of its IT
function to the company's technical headquarters on Queensland's Sunshine Coast
in an effort to rationalise the way it supports 50 remote sites.
The company operates more than 70 primarily regional
newspapers in Australia, in addition to 12 radio stations and
outdoor advertising work. But until recently, APN's IT systems were located at each of its 50 locations and supported by remote administrators at each site.
For reasons of cost efficiency that had to change, the
company's service desk manager David Slyderink told ZDNet
Australia in a telephone interview last week.
"If you've got 50 newspapers spread throughout various sites,
including regional towns, if you go and put 50 servers on those
sites, how are you going to manage it?" he asked. "It's a matter
of trying to find IT resources to spread right across two
"Last year, we started to centralise quite a few
"We thought well, let's buy you-beaut Super Tower servers, and
stick them in our data centre in our technical headquarters
in Maroochydore here, and let's back it with some central resources
and use technology such as Citrix to deploy thin clients across
a wide area network," he added.
One of the key aspects of the centralisation was the need to
provide a unified IT support structure for the company's 2000
"We set up what we call our service desk," said Slyderink.
"That contains level one service desk analysts, that
respond to calls in the first instance from these sites."
These analysts attempt to resolve user problems via telephone,
escalating to APN's specialist IT team or back out to remote IT
administrators if necessary.
To record incidents coming through the service desk, the
company is implementing the incident
management modules of software vendor FrontRange's IT Service
Management platform (ITSM). APN bought some 25 ITSM licences, covering
the service desk and remote administrators.
"We're three quarters through implementing incident management throughout our group," said Slyderink.
The service desk manager said the main benefit of the software was having the
ability to document all IT support incidents, allowing his team
to pick up trends and problem areas.
"We can use this to spit out all the stats that can convince
our accountants to spend the money in an area," he said.
In addition, being able to automatically escalate problems to
staff members, and provide a more professional experience for end
users was important.
Slyderink likened the changed end-user experience to using an automatic teller machine instead of a human teller.
"Talking to someone over the phone or sending an e-mail to a
service desk can feel quite impersonal, compared to walking up to
someone you've known for many years to help you with the
problem," he said, noting though that the overall benefits outweighed the
decreased human interaction.
Slyderink said the support centralisation had not found favour with
APN's remote IT administrators.
"It's quite a culture shock to be told, especially for the
external IT guys that they're not the first port of call
anymore," he said. However end users have reacted positively to
APN installed ITSM on a Dell PowerEdge 2850 server running
Windows NT, connecting to a Microsoft SQL Server database. End
users connect to the support interface through Citrix.
"Bandwidth-wise, it's the only way," said Slyderink of the Citrix
"Maybe if you want to do some fancy database stuff and have
Oracle experts you'd go that way, but we find Oracle probably a
bit over the top for something like this," he said of the
ITSM also connects to APN's Active Directory rollout, which contains the company's end-user profiles.
Although ITSM has met APN's needs, Slyderink would like to see
some improvements in the next version of the software. "Even
though it's up to version five, it feels like it's on version
two," he said, noting the software's dashboards, performance and
external software interfaces could be improved.
The Lotus position
Another aspect of APN's IT centralisation has been e-mail,
with the company recently migrating "quite a few sites" from
IBM's Lotus Notes or other platforms to Microsoft's Exchange
The migration to Exchange was based on cost and the availability of in-house skills in the area, according to Slyderink.
"We had Lotus Notes initially, and the decision was made at a management level to go to Microsoft for volume licensing reasons," he said. "And we also had in-house expertise on Exchange as opposed to Notes."
"Probably the product isn't quite as good as Notes as far as the feature set goes and workflow. But a lot of things fall down to economics," he added.
"We're about two-thirds of the way through the company
changing to 2003, and that's on a centralised mail server," he
said. "Some of the sites even had e-mail hosted by Telstra
BigPond, or domains they'd set up themselves that were running on
a Linux box."
"So now part of the centralisation is to just take it all away
... we let them have their domains -- for example mercury.com.au
for Mackay -- but everything comes through here."
One of APN's next planned IT moves will be to implement the change management modules of ITSM. "That might include IT changes or it might just include a change coming in from a site that affects something. That'll be our next area of focus. That'll probably keep us busy for the rest of the year on ITSM," said Slyderink.
"Once the change management module is implemented, any change in the organisation that impacts on or involves IT in some way will have to go before a review board and be digitally signed off by the members before IT start the implementation," he said in a statement sent to ZDNet Australia.
But ultimately the issues that give APN's IT staff the biggest headaches are not related to infrastructure at all. "I think the biggest challenges are the human ones, not the technical ones," concluded the service desk manager.