Cloud computing is providing the life-changing link between a remote provincial capital in Papua New Guinea and its sister city of Mt Barker, on the eastern fringes of Adelaide, South Australia.
Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).
Mt Barker District Council is mentoring the City of Kokopo in corporate governance and financial systems, a relationship brokered by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum and funded by AusAID.
The assistance includes 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 1,000km north-east of Port Moresby and one of the most-isolated cities in PNG.
It’s solely reliant on wireless broadband for its Internet connection to the outside world.
“When we were looking at working with Kokopo in late 2011, we realised the difficulties of setting up and supporting an on-premise server,” said Mt Barker general manager corporate services, David Peters.
“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. “
Mt Barker is 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.”
David 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,” David said.
“We are now able to communicate regularly using voice calls, chat, video calls and sharing computers all through Microsoft Lync between Australia and PNG. We moved to implementing this in December 2011.
“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.”
Mt Barker’s next project is rolling 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,” David said.
“But without cloud computing, the project wouldn’t have happened.
“We’re now at the point where another C\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.”
David said one of the key features of Office 365 was the ability to scale up quickly and easily.
“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,” David said.