NSW Police sticks by mainframe guns

Legacy systems breathe new life

NSW Police's much heralded mainframe replacement program should be renamed refresh as the state government department purchased two new units to run its core transaction system.

A long-time user of a Fujitsu mainframe, NSW Police was forced to find a replacement as there was no clear upgrade path when the vendor exited the market.

Two IBM zSeries mainframes were commissioned, one for production and the other for disaster recovery. Their capacities are some 500 and 50 MIPS, respectively.

During his presentation at the fourth OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) open standards conference in Sydney today, NSW Police director of information management services Michael Milne spoke about the difficulties of managing information in a complex environment with many disparate systems.

Milne, who is responsible for enterprise architecture and strategic planning, said NSW Police IT has discussed the possibility of migrating off the mainframe but at this time it remains the best system to suit its needs.

"Our mainframe is the spider at the centre of our integration web," Milne said, adding the department is moving to a service delivery architecture which is "information based and evidence led".

As one of the world's largest police forces with about 14,500 officers and 3000 civilian employees, including 350 IT staff, Milne said there is a large degree of functional overlap and lot of silos.

"The way we were doing business was not sustainable and required a new approach," he said.

With over 130 corporate applications, including a mixture of home-grown and packaged software, Milne jokingly said NSW Police has "pretty much every technology platform in its 20 year IT history".

"It's like someone got a virtual shopping cart and went around to all the vendors and said I want one of those, and three of those," he said.

Wanting to minimize the duplication of data, and to exchange data with partners in an open way, NSW Police earlier this year began its journey into SOA, which Milne described as very new to the organization.

"What's going on? We're constructing applications using services and then reusing services," he said.

NSW Police put out a tender last year for an enterprise service bus (ESB) and SOA toolkit, which Milne said is an enabler for a SOA but it does do a lot more.

Tying it all together is XML, which has been in use for four to five years now.

"Platform and vendor independence are important to us [and] XML will assist in that [but] there is still a people problem and a semantic problem," Milne said. "Where agencies would normally be pushing the line of the easiest implementation, by all agreeing to sign up to a standard the selfish view is scuttled at the start."

For example, Milne said it took 18 months for Australia's police forces to agree on a data integration profile.

"XML by itself without the appropriate governance models will make the situation worse," he said.

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