​NSW Fire & Service's move to an unmanaged network

NSW Fire & Service is currently undertaking a 'work anywhere' project that will see systems be moved online, staff members using their own devices, and the organisation saving money.

New South Wales Fire & Service CIO Richard Host's vision for the organisation is to create an agnostic work environment where staff embraces the concept of a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model, the internet replaces the existing corporate private network, and the IT department becomes a technology service broker.

Host said, during the Criterion's Transitioning to ICT as a service conference in Sydney on Wednesday, that the ultimate goal under the organisation's "work anywhere" project is to see 8,000 staff members use unmanaged devices.

According to Host, the realisation that the organisation's existing IT system needed to change was triggered by the introduction of the iPhone, which brought about "shock and awe".

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"Our deputy commissioner said, 'I need to have an iPhone'. The first shock and awe was that we couldn't put a standard operating environment on this thing. The next was he had to connect it up to his own credit card, and then he could load apps. The biggest eye opener was the IT department didn't add any value whatsoever to that purchase," he said.

At the same time, Host's own experience of working from home on an unmanaged computer and network also made him realise the benefits that the organisation would reap from an agnostic work environment.

Host said that contractors will soon be encouraged to bring their own devices, while staff will be given incentives through salary packages to also bring their own devices.

"Service providers should bring their own tools. The great thing about an unmanaged device using the internet is it doesn't really matter whether my organisation provides you with that laptop or whether you bring it yourself, because the IT is not going to touch it," he said.

"They can pick and choose what they want and what they're comfortable with, so that means training will be much less and people will be happier. They can also claim it as a tax deduction, where the government will be able to pay for a third of it."

However, Host highlighted that the organisation will continue to retain some control, which will mainly be for devices that are installed in its fire emergency vehicles and emergency centres. A small portion of legacy groups, such as laptops running Windows, will also continue to exist.

Host added that taking the unmanaged approach to IT is seeing the organisation save money. For instance, NSW Fire & Service is saving more than 75 percent on data telecommunication costs since recently signing new contracts.

"If I'm now moving to the internet, I don't need a corporate private network. The internet is a generic product, so I can procure it from Telstra, but also from Pacnet, or from TPG, or Optus, or anybody. The great thing about the internet is it's a competitive product, and it's competitively priced," Host said.

"I would estimate it's at least a 75 percent, if not 80 percent, discount to move to an internet-based network. I can pick and choose whoever I want to provide internet to each of the 400 stations across NSW; it's whoever gives me the best price and speed.

"I've been paying up to AU$1,600 a month for a 2MB-per-second connection at some of my regional offices. The little old lady that lives next door to the fire station was paying AU$135 a month, getting a 100MB per second unlimited, and could also phone 125 countries unlimited for free."

To support the change, NSW Fire & Service has so far converted its systems to ensure that they are web based. Host said there are still one or two legacy systems, but that the team is currently working to convert them to be web based.

"One of the things about using the internet and not a corporate private network is you'll have common experience no matter where you are. If I'm at home, at work, or in between, whereas more organisations, their staff have a different experience if they work from home to when they're in the office, or using the 4G card, whereas using the internet will offer a generic experience," he said.

The organisation is also currently working on a Fire & Rescue app, which will be available for public download to access all the content that is provided on the NSW Fire & Rescue website. At the same time, it will also be used as a portal by staff to access all internal systems and the intranet.

Host said the thought process behind the app is to cater for the hunger that the organisation's staff have for using their mobile devices to access company systems. In fact, internal research revealed that the organisation has 300 percent more people using the system from their own devices than from the devices the organisation actually owns.

From a network perspective, NSW Fire & Service is migrating its network to an IBM-operated platform as a service, which the organisation sourced from the NSW government's GovDC marketplace.

"We're getting an incredible bang for buck. We're going to get a massive performance increase compared to the five-year-old kit we're getting rid of, and the price we're back is the same as what I was paying six years ago, and I have this locked in for the next five. We've also got 24/7 support, and it's a whole big change for my IT organisation for sure," he said.

As for what all the change means for the IT department, Host said he foresees that the IT department will become a form of "genius bar on steroids".

"The IT team will eventually be relegated to a smallish number of technology service brokers. I will hold them accountable for a whole swag of the business," he said.