Friday, 09 March 2012 04:19

Cloud link between PNG, South Australia 'life changing'

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South Australia's Mt Barker Council is helping a small town's local council on the remote Papua New Guinea island of East New Britain to run their operations using cloud computing in what is described as a 'life changing' project.

Under the arrangement between the City of Kokopo council in the remote PNG provincial capital of Kokopo, Mt Barker District Council is mentoring its sister city in corporate governance and financial systems, a relationship brokered by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum and funded by AusAID.

According to Mt Barker General Manager Corporate Services, David Peters, cloud computing is providing the life-changing link between the two towns, including helping Kokopo stay financial by collecting rates and improve its garbage collection services to prevent serious disease in the local population.

 A city of 26,000-plus, Kokopo has been the administrative centre for the island of East New Britain, between the Bismarck and Solomon seas, since volcanoes devastated neighbouring Rabaul in 1994. The capital is 1,000 kilometres north-east of Port Moresby and one of the most isolated cities in PNG.

Kokopo is solely reliant on wireless broadband for its Internet connection to the outside world, and David Peters says that when Mt Barker Council was looking at working with Kokopo in late 2011, it realised the difficulties of setting up and supporting an on-premise server.

'Copper wire doesn't last long in PNG before people dig it up to sell. PCs are riddled with viruses. Conditions are basic and the power supply often drops out. Local IT support that doesn't charge astronomically is non-existent.'

Peters said that Mt Barker was helping bring the council's 'failed rate collection system' up to speed after Kokopo was financially bailed out by the PNG Government.  '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.'

According to Peters, he spoke to Mt Barker's ICT partner, Telstra, which suggested using its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) portal, Telstra T-Suite, 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.'

Peters says that the two councils were now able to communicate regularly using voice calls, chat, video calls and sharing computers 'all through Microsoft Lync between Australia and PNG,' with implementation starting in December 2011 last year.

'Office 365 has enabled us to communicate really well. We can chat over videoconferencing and take control of their PC to get things done. Everything's shared and synchronised between Kokopo's desktop and the cloud so if the Internet goes down, they can keep working off the desktop.'

Peters said Mt Barker's next project was to roll out desktops connected to Office 365 for the rest of the staff to help bring Kokopo's garbage collection service up-to-speed, 'preventing refuse leaking into the water table and causing disease.'  

'You can't put a dollar value on what that's doing to improve life for the local community. But without cloud computing, the project wouldn't have happened,' Peters adds.

'We're now at the point where another Council would like to be brought into this project.  The ICT infrastructure is easy to replicate and rollout, so the work to do that will be miniscule compared to what it will provide.  

'There are people who know Papua New Guinea well that see this partnership as a model that could really take their technological needs to the next level without having to spend millions of dollars,' Peters said.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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