Storage, It is really about filing cabinets

“Why don’t governments just hurry up and automate theseprocesses?”

It’s a constant refrain, heard at service counters in governmentoffices across the country, usually from frustrated folks who havespent their day crisscrossing town and filling out forms forsomething as simple as vehicle registration.

When it comes to improving service delivery, many governmentorganizations are at a disadvantage. Conventional pen and paperprocesses may be unsophisticated, but they’re entrenched withingovernment cultures because they have worked reasonably well fordecades. In addition, a sweeping transition to e-service systemsappears on the surface to open a Pandora’s box of data security,privacy and cost issues. It’s enough to make even the most seasonedIT professional break out in a cold sweat.

Fortunately, this was not the case for Service New Brunswick(SNB).

Service New Brunswick was created in 1995 after a series ofprovince-wide public consultations revealed a common desire forconsolidated or “single window” government service delivery.E-government wasn’t a new idea in New Brunswick, but the SNB teamknew that elaborate amalgamation projects rarely live up to theiroriginal objectives. Across the country and around the world, manyof today’s government IT infrastructures consist of an intricatemix of incompatible systems that can be hamstrung by the slightesttechnical oversight. SNB’s system was no exception to this and,although the public had spoken and was looking for improvements,the task would be easier said than done.

With government credibility on the line and the public openlycalling for a new system, Service New Brunswick chose a calculated,evolutionary path with three goals in mind: consolidation, dataprotection and cost minimization.

Streamlining a fragmented system

New Brunswick is comprised of a mix of almost 40 communities,primarily rural. Before the launch of SNB, this represented dozensof government offices scattered throughout the province, each withits own IT system. For many constituents, interacting withgovernment required a significant time and travel investment forsomething as routine as a motor vehicle renewal. The solution layin web-enabling government systems so that citizens could accessservices from any Internet connection. SNB faced these issues headon by investing in a new server system and, recently, by adding anenterprise level storage system to create a central online databaseof service information. By linking rural offices via – a secure, one-stop-shopfor services to people regardless of their location – the publichas quick, online access to information. Gone are the days ofdriving around town or standing in multiple line-ups to fill outsimple applications.

SNB’s main principle is to offer a simple and always availablemeans for the public to interact with government. SNB chose tocreate an online system that would complement, rather than replace,existing over-the-counter and call centre services. Moreover, itchose to enhance the system by establishing a third and final tierof data access for staff and the public. SNB’s “always on” storageinfrastructure, built on a Sun Microsystems network of servers,storage and software, acts as a secure, electronic filing cabinet.It ensures that personal information such as addresses, SocialInsurance Numbers, and customer information is housedelectronically in a safe location and is always within arm’s reachof authorized government staff whether they are in Dalhousie orfive hours away in Saint John. With the information in digitalform, any member of the public who requires assistance can walkinto any office or call SNB TeleServices and get the same level ofquick, streamlined service.

Establishing a common storage site for data in this way alsocreated an opportunity to save money by “trimming the fat” from thesystem. With government offices acting as satellites connected to amain database, dozens of costly servers with underused storagedevices performing duplicate tasks could now be consolidated. Whatwas previously a group of 35 high performance servers, each hookedinto its own storage device and a tape back-up system, now connectsto a single, enterprise level storage area network (SAN). Byreducing the overall volume of IT storage systems and drasticallyreducing often overlooked operating costs such as utilities,storage tape, and person hours, SNB’s system maintenance costs havedropped to 38 per cent of what they were two years ago.

Heightened privacy and data protection

While connecting government through the SNB system created amore convenient network for information sharing, it also producedsome challenging security issues. In 2005, SNB handled more thanfive million transactions for New Brunswickers, ranging fromdriver’s license renewals to applications for hunting licences tonew business registrations; 35 per cent of them were processedonline. Consequently, in addition to being the conduit togovernment for 750,000 people, SNB is also the custodian of massiveamounts of sensitive public and personal data. Better management ofthe growing repository of data would be driven by stringent privacypolicies and SNB’s powerful storage technology.

The introduction of privacy legislation such as PIPEDA, and NewBrunswick’s own POPIA, have resulted in an exponential increase inthe amount of data an organization like SNB needs to keep underelectronic lock and key. SNB developed several internal dataprotection policies that classify information according to itslevel of sensitivity. Anything deemed sensitive is reviewed byrecords management staff and filed accordingly. Information thatmust remain private is secured on the storage device, whilepublicly available data occupies a more accessible location on thesystem.

SNB expects to have almost nine terabytes (9,000 gigabytes) ofdata stored on its systems by this summer and the demand willcontinue to grow as new services are rolled out. Ensuring that thisgrowing body of information remains accessible will continue topresent challenges, and so SNB opted to work with Sun Microsystemsto ensure that the province continues to make good on itscommitments. Combined with SNB’s own data backup and retentionpolicies, the Sun solution, comprised of servers running on theSolaris operating system and storage arrays, offers optimalutilization of storage resources and extremely fast access toinformation. Staff have real-time access to electronic documents orreports resulting in faster processing and positively impacting thepace of public service delivery. Based on SNB’s needs and Sun’stechnology roadmap, SNB hopes it will always have thehigh-performance storage capacity it needs, making it easier toevolve over time.

Finally, keeping this all under wraps is a sophisticatedsoftware control. With electronic versions of public records housedsecurely on SNB’s storage system, it is easy to restrict access toonly authorized personnel through varying levels of secure usersign-on privileges. These added levels of security provide thepublic with assurances that their private information will remainprivate. 062782

Dorothea Foley is Director of Information Technology for ServiceNew Brunswick.

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