When the Queensland Government mandated scores of councils to amalgamate, by 2008, there was always going to be a challenge to integrate the various bodies' IT systems.
For Mitch Miller, business information services support team leader at Bundaberg Council, one of the central issues was email integration.
Bundaberg Regional Council (BRC) was formed in March 2008 when Bundaberg City Council, Burnett Shire, Isis Shire and Kolan Shire Councils merged. Overnight, the council's user-base grew by 200 percent.
To bring together the disparate email systems, the council was looking for a product that reduced latency and required little supervision from the technical support. The search led him to Google Message Discovery (GMD), powered by Postini.
"GMD is one of the best in email security and protection and has highly effective tools for blocking junk and virus-infected messages," Miller says.
"Email can be stored for up to 10 years in specialised, high-protection environments designed specifically and managed by Google."
Miller says the system's search functionality was also added to locate required documents.
In the next step of the migration BRC switched from managing its own firewall and security software to Google's cloud-based security model, Postini.
Postini is a US-based company that provides on-demand solutions which help protect businesses from internet-based attacks and also helps with compliance to government, industry and internal mandates.
The system provides three services including filtering email messages, which contain malware or spam before they are delivered to the client's mail server; archiving email messages; and protecting networks from web-borne malware.
These services can be used with email, IM, web filtering and security, as well as a variety of compliance applications including message archiving, encryption and policy enforcement.
As an on-demand service, there is no software or hardware to buy, install, maintain or upgrade. Administrators use standard web browsers to manage the system and users continue to use their existing email, IM and web software.
Google acquired Postini in 2007 for US$625 million and kept it as a wholly-owned subsidiary to back-up the internet company's messaging services.
Miller says the council examined many alternatives to the Postini service but all required an unsatisfactory amount of IT intervention.
"Postini took that problem away from us," he says.
A SaaS solution provided the logical latency for BRC and it also required less on-site equipment. "We have lower overheads with regard to server maintenance and server configuration times," Miller says. "[There's] also less bandwidth usage with Postini not delivering blocked mail."
Miller, head of the council's helpdesk/support services and with some infrastructure involvement, says there are 16 employees within the IT department, looking after the needs of 512 staff located across five sites.
The council has many in-house applications developed and delivered via its intranet to look after the host of things a council does; rates searches, GIS systems, phonebook, customer requests, record management, integrated management system, wikis and budgeting software.
Besides these vital applications for the council, employees are allowed to use the internet for recreational surfing - within reason.
Before selecting Postini the council had managed its own anti-spam/anti-virus/firewall solution.
Council hosts its own website pages and the IT department is extremely mindful of potential attacks. The "potential is there" for web threats to pose a significant threat to the integrity of BRC's system, says Miller. There is also a risk from portable storage devices. "However, we don't see it as a likely scenario with Google's product."
On Google Apps Enterprise's advice BRC chose Postini's web malware scanning, web filtering, IM control and Google message security.
An Australia-owned integrator, Devnet, did the installation.
Devnet was founded by Craig Deveson in 2002 as a web marketing consultancy firm.
In 2004 the company moved its headquarters from Melbourne to Brisbane and expanded to provide web consulting, design, development and maintenance and optimisation using web analytics.
In May 2008 Devnet was appointed Google's Asia-Pacific partner for the distribution of its Apps Premier Edition and Apps Partner Edition.
According to Deveson, Google passed the project to the integrator in 2008. "The council approached Google and it passed the lead to us," he says.
Deveson says the integrator had experience with similar Google projects, but not for local councils. "Councils often have a 12-18 month budget cycle," he says. "However, once products are chosen by the council you often have them for a long time," he says.
"In this case the evaluation/trial phase was under 60 days and we were able to get the system working to requirements quickly and the customer was happy with the results."
The project took one month and two Devnet staff members worked with BRC's technical team.
According to Miller it was as easy as changing BRC's email exchange and configuring the domains in Postini.
"This was fairly easy considering we also had multiple domains to administer as a result of the merged council," he says.
A year into the system Miller claims it has been extremely effective, with lots of positive feedback from staff and minimal instances of reported blocked legitimate emails.
"Certainly, we have been able to consolidate a number of internet connections," he says.
Miller can't quantify the cost savings or the lower total cost of ownership that has resulted from using Postini due to the multiple mergers involved. But the technical team has a better understanding of user requirements, delivering a more satisfactory level of service with regard to other service calls.
"It is not easily [quantifiable] but estimates would be four to six hours saved each week, shared by a junior and senior staff member," he says.
According to Miller the latency has also been minimal. "Even when we occasionally send large files across interdomains and Postini is the deliverer, the latency is never noticeable."
Deveson says the project had minimal complications during the set-up procedure and very little upkeep from the integrator.
Working with BRC has spurred Deveson's interest in providing similar solutions to other local government agencies.
He believes the desire to reduce the security administration burden is widespread among Australian IT departments and is driving a strong take-up in Postini managed security services.
"Councils generally adopt what other councils do so our objective is to have a higher penetration in that part of the market," Deveson says.