CIO50 2021 #12: Gavin Costello, Network for Learning
Gavin Costello joined Network for Learning (N4L) ahead of two massive nationwide technology rollouts delivered to 2500 schools in New Zealand. The first of which, a security overhaul, was completed in 2019, with the execution of the second beginning in 2020: delivering the single largest distributed and managed wireless network service in New Zealand.
Costello is leading N4L’s delivery of the Ministry of Education’s Te Mana Tūhono (TMT) programme, one of the country’s largest ICT deployments. The goal is to boost the resilience, capacity and security of school wireless networks. This includes replacing aging school networks: 12,000 switches and 38,000 wireless access points using Wi-Fi 6 technology.
“When considering that every school has a unique set of needs, with different levels of technology adoption, IT skills, and network complexity, the rollout is a massive logistical undertaking. Geography, student roll size, equity and culture also feed into the approach and design for each school,” Costello says.
His team developed an innovative automated design and workflow tool to ensure the design and deployment of the 2500 school networks will provide optimal WiFi performance for each school regardless of size or location. “With a working title of “N4L Mahi Tahi”, the tool delivers value and innovation to N4L and the Crown, allowing us to work together as one team and collaborate with a network of 30+ partners to deliver outstanding, customised results for schools to the highest standard,” he says.
“Put simply, N4L Mahi Tahi allows a small team at N4L to deliver a lot of value in a short time period, and at an affordable price to the Crown.”
The tool manages the lifecycle of every school’s network upgrade, from the initial audit of the school’s premises, to the creation of a customised network design, through to the ordering of hardware and scheduling the installation with our delivery partners; and culminating with an ongoing support programme. Key decisions are captured within an audit trail through integration with Salesforce and Xero and stored within Mahi Tahi, facilitating outstanding support service levels for schools.
Engineers and project coordinators work in the same interface to manage the design process, enforcing business rules to ensure consistency and accuracy of network designs. The workflow of design PDFs, orders, invoices, and emails to customers and partners are automated. Truly innovative is the way N4L Mahi Tahi pre-configures the master network hardware console, which means all switches and wireless access points are set up to connect to N4L’s managed services straight out of the box once the schools receive them, without manual intervention by an engineer, Costello says.
Targets are set for each financial year within the scheduled four-year timeframe, with 381 schools upgraded to the new Wi-Fi 6 networks in the 2020 financial year and 617 scheduled for 2021.
When rollout concludes in 2024, all schools and over 860,000 users will be managed by infrastructure that N4L has designed and installed, and then managed, with N4L Mahi Tahi instrumental to making this happen.
Partnering with the Crown
The new and extended statements of work from the Ministry of Education would not have been possible without Costello having first gained the trust and confidence of our government and technology partners, built over his three-year tenure at N4L. Respect, and therefore the ear, of many major government and industry leaders, is gained through his collaborative leadership style, underpinned by a solid track record of delivering a successful nationwide Managed Network upgrade in 2019 (when a new firewall and filtering system was deployed to every school).
Costello is the sole N4L representative sitting on the TMT governance board alongside the Ministry of Education’s Chief Digital Officer and their Group Manager of Business Services; NZQA’s Programme Manager for Digital Assessment Transformation, and the former Deputy Director of CERT NZ (now an independent cybersecurity consultant).