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Mission critical ICT in the era of digital and diverse platforms

Mission critical ICT in the era of digital and diverse platforms

Deane Johns of the NZ Association of Credit Unions and Steve Thompson of Unisys talk about how emerging technologies can be applied to this new environment.

This is part two of a special report on the CIO Leaders’ Luncheons in Wellington and Auckland on ‘the new scope of mission critical computing’ held in conjunction with Unisys. Read Part 1 of the report here.

Operating as a 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year organisation, technology at New Zealand Association of Credit Unions also no longer resides in the back office, says CIO Deane Johns. But the organisation has different reasons for why.

“We work towards meeting a target of 99.9 per cent uptime throughout the year which we’re managing to achieve,” says Johns, who spoke at the CIO Leaders’ Luncheon on ‘the new scope of mission-critical ICT’ in Auckland.

In reaching this milestone for two consecutive years, Johns’ business strategy is driven by a need to be online and operating at any given time.

“Reliability builds trust with our members. We have absolutely no tolerance for any of our services going down,” he says.

Operating under the trading name of Co-op Money NZ, and with more than 200,000 active members across the country, NZACU stands tall as the sixth largest organisation in New Zealand in terms of transaction volume.

This mean Johns relies on mission-critical technologies to attain new levels of availability, scalability and reliability of complex workloads.

Read more: ‘The CIO holds the most strategic role in the enterprise today, with the exception of the CEO’

“For NZACU, our revenue is based on our transactional throughput,” Johns explains. “We can go from 5000 transactions to as many as 50,000 per hour depending on the day and time of the year.

“Our biggest day transactions wise is actually December 26 and as Unisys has mentioned, our banking facilities are crucial given how developed the New Zealand banking ecosystem is.”

Following his appointment as CIO in August 2011, Johns has drawn on his extensive experience in a broad range of insurance, IT and service delivery roles to help further drive the organisation forward from an ICT perspective.

We have absolutely no tolerance for any of our services going down.

Deane Johns, NZ Association of Credit Unions

Previously employed by Gen-i as programme manager, responsible for a large team managing the ERP upgrade for a large New Zealand Corporate, Johns has a strong understanding of strategic issues, IT roadmaps, project governance and proven leadership experience.

“We work on a lean budget with around 25 staff,” he adds. “It’s a challenge but it keeps the organisation very nimble and focused on providing true value to our members.”

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Operating as a core part of NZACU’s make-up, the importance of members cannot be overestimated for Johns, who cites the organisation’s phone systems as a mission critical aspect of the business.

“For NZACU, it’s absolutely key to have a working phone system,” he adds. “Despite the rise of the Internet of Things, phone is still proving to be our biggest channel for our members.”

Another top priority for Johns is capacity, and ensuring NZACU operates within a scalable infrastructure.

“It’s critical for NZACU to be able to scale up to multiple amounts of transactions at any given time,” he adds.

Read more: Unisys phasing out decades-old mainframe processor for x86 chips

This is achieved through duplicate data centres, built-in hardware fault tolerance, real-time replication, active passive servers, phone failover, scalable capacity both in infrastructure and application base, virtualisation across the two data centres, flexibility in infrastructure, network redundancy, SAN-level replication and same capacity systems.

Related: In pictures: CIO Leaders' Luncheon on 'Mission critical ICT in the era of digital and diverse platforms'

Mission critical engineer

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Steve Thompson, vice president, ClearPath Engineering at Unisys, has been developing mission-critical platforms throughout his career. The key to delivering that experience is having an architecture.

“We tend to think of mission critical as a product, with built-in redundancy, built-in security and all those types of things,” he says.

Read more: Digital Glue: Why APIs need to be part of your 2015 strategy

“Well, mission critical is broader because it is the people and the processes that go along with it.

“From an engineering perspective, a Unisys perspective and a data perspective, this really is a spectacular time to be in this industry.

“So much is changing all at once, such as the acceleration of technology that we’re witnessing over time, which is increasing.

And because of this it’s going to be really challenging for businesses to absorb all of the technology tests that’s going to come at them.”

Thompson believes that all the way down to the engineering model, the industry is witnessing disruptive trends.

“They are going on everyday, and we’re seeing them categorized this way, these are the things that are transforming technology, products that I’m developing and you’re taking to market,” he adds.

“Take big data analytics for example: This isn’t something I’m developing tomorrow, it’s not something I’m developing today, I’ve already developed it.”

Now, according to Thompson, it’s about how businesses digest this, different industries will digest it in different timeframes but either way, all the pieces are falling into place.

Read more: CIO Upfront: Enterprise architecture and the legacy system conundrum

So how do you take advantage and leverage this in a secure fashion?


“The standard that has been established in the industry is going to change how you process your data, store your data,” Thompson adds.

“As I look at what I do, and the very standards that I’ve used to build systems for 30 years, I embrace it.”

As a business, Thompson accepts that it’s hard to imagine how things are going to change within the next two, five years or even 10 years.

“What does your business look like?” he asks. “The concept behind it all is actually a bit of protection, something that you can adapt and change.

“Define your applications, and move apps around in your data centre, and have a standardised infrastructure. Certain apps are only associated with one vendor or another so look for this standardization – ensure you have this level of certainty and take advantage of it.

“Now you have a standard infrastructure, the next problem is that the industry hasn’t solved how to deploy these applications quickly and move these apps around. A cloud manager will allow you to move applications around to suit your business needs.”


Thompson says today the X86 data centre environment is borderless, partitioned, virtual, automated and secure.

“A move towards a more cost effective and standardised environment is where the industry is going,” he adds.

Standardisation as an interface, as Thompson describes it, is about having an architecture that allows businesses to move things around in a very evolutionary and seamless way.

Define your applications, and move apps around in your data centre, and have a standardised infrastructure.

Steve Thompson, Unisys

“Gradually over time, we’ve taken technology we’ve had in Unisys development and moved them to the open space – we have the same mission-critical problems that I had 20 years ago,” he adds.

“But now consider me taking those technologies and applying them to a Windows, Linux or whatever. That’s standardisation around the data centre.”

Internet of Things

While the Internet of Things is “coming our way”, Thompson, who flew in from the US to attend the CIO Luncheon, says defining how this applies to individual business requirements is a different conversation.

“We’re seeing continuous streams of data coming our way from a variety of sources but how do you aggregate this big data behind the Internet of Things?” he asks.

As people, organisations and technology continue to expand the scope of what is possible, Thompson believes the time has come to view data as an enterprise asset. He calls on businesses to extract value out of existing data to create added value to the company.

But what does this mean? “It means the data centre is going to have to change,” he says. “Businesses are already thinking about this as people show up with different devices and technologies.

“In general, businesses are going to see the cost benefit of moving tech off premise, along with the risks associated with that.

“But businesses are going to ask the data centre to solve these problems. The data centre is going to have to figure that out and provide a solution which will be a lot more cost effective.”

Next: People are mission critical too

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Tags x86unisysmission critical systemsdatacentresCIO Leaders' LuncheonDeane JohnsSteve Thompson

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