The 2011 Christchurch earthquake was a turning point for New Zealand's public sector as it motivated the adoption of the building-as-a-service (BaaS) model.
Led by Statistics New Zealand (Stats NZ), the BaaS model is aimed at enabling the public sector to quickly get their services up and running after being hit with natural disasters, as well as allowing services to be utilised in an integrated way. At the same time, the project is part of the government's commitment to rebuild Christchurch's central district after the earthquake, Chris Buxton, chief digital officer, Statistics New Zealand told GCIO Asia.
He explained that BaaS is a shared model that enables public servants to "walk into any building and start operating -- by connecting to the government's and their agency's networks, and consume services (ie. printing, book meeting rooms) as needed -- even they are not a tenant in that building."
This was vastly different from the previous way of operating, in which every government agency leased their own building, had their own agreement, build their own infrastructure, and operated on their own.
"With BaaS, only one lead tenant is needed to hold the building lease and agreement for everyone. This simplifies the process and lowers costs," Buxton said.
However, adopting the model did not come without challenges. One of them was changing the internal agency culture. "Under the old way of operating, you've got a person tightly coupled to the PC on a desk, to a network, to a data centre. And agencies are bound by boundaries and nothing crosses that boundary unless the agency wants it to happen.
But under BaaS, you're effectively decoupling everyone so that they can walk into any space, connect to a wireless network, use their mobile devices to connect to a dataset that is virtualised somewhere else and work seamlessly. So when we said that agencies have to do away with the 'boundary mindset' and that they won't have a permanent physical space/office anymore, not everyone could immediately adjust to it," he shared.
To overcome this, Stats NZ had to educate public servants by demonstrating the capability of BaaS. " We converted some of our meeting rooms in our buildings in Wellington to allow people to come in, try out the technology to get comfortable with it and see if/how it works. Similarly, we set up shared printing services in existing offices so that once BaaS is implemented, people will have a reasonable amount of confidence that any issues were not a fundamental problem with the technology but probably data or permission related," Buxton said.
There was a disconnect internally too. "While the chief executives were supportive of BaaS and prepared to take some risks, the technical people were saying no to risks as they received instructions such as the need to have BaaS' services 100 percent operable from Day 1 with no possible outages. The upper management thus took on the ownership of that risk. We told them that we knew they were worried but it's going to be okay and we'll take the blame if it goes wrong. By letting them almost off the hook a bit, [it encouraged the IT people accept BaaS and be more open to the risks of the model]," he said.
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