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Whanganui District Council

Whanganui District Council

Highlights

  • NZ district council supports 300 staff and 10 sites with Meraki MR & EMM
  • IT & Meraki helped enable the ICF Smart City & Top7 Intelligent Community Awards
  • Meraki helping IT team minimize overhead costs with its ease of use & visibility

The breadth of services covered by local governments is extensive. The roads you bike down, the clean water in your faucets, and the neighborhood parks are all maintained by local governments such as Whanganui District Council on the West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island. With nearly 300 government employees along with 10 different buildings including libraries, museums, and galleries, the IT team has their work cut out for them when it comes to managing a dispersed network.

Jason Simons, the CIO of the Information Services Group at Whanganui District Council, and his team of 17 look after the network, all help desk requests, device and system maintenance, information systems, mapping, and records from one of two administrative buildings. With high levels of responsibility and a strong dedication to providing quality service for internal clients, Simons relies on the Cisco Meraki solution to free up his staff’s time.

When Simons first started working at the council, they depended on a controller-based network as well as external consultants to design the system. Though the system worked well and connections were always reliable, Simons was concerned with the growing overhead costs and inefficient network management experience once they had to deploy wireless to the 10 government buildings. At that time, Simons came across Meraki while researching new network solutions and was intrigued by the cloud management philosophy. After testing out the products via a trial, Simons shared his experience, saying, “I was blown away with the ease of setup and the fact that you can configure everything in the dashboard, take the unit out of the box, plug it in anywhere in the world, and you’d be up and running.” In addition, the reliability of the network and the summary reports in the Meraki dashboard made a world of difference as it took weight off of Simons and his team of system engineers.

Today, Whanganui District Council has 10 separate networks created in the Meraki web-based dashboard, with one more site coming online in the next few weeks. Luckily, the city is fairly small so the internal IT team is able to install the APs themselves. All devices are configured as soon as Simons receives the email from Meraki containing the order number. Additionally, the team uses a master configuration template that is then cloned to all new APs so the WiFi experience is consistent from site to site for all employees and guests.

When I receive the email that the order has shipped, I cut and paste the order number into the dashboard and instantly, inventory is updated. The dashboard will ask me if I want to create a new network. 'Yes, I do.' Then it asks, 'where do you want to copy it from?' I click and I’m done. 15 minutes is probably an exaggeration of how long it takes. Jason Simons, CIO of Information Services Group

On the MR wireless access points, Simons raves about the location analytics feature. He mentioned that “one thing local government is really good at is measuring KPIs on performance, as in how are you delivering services,” and Meraki helps him prove the value of many of the services the council provides. As an example, Whanganui libraries used to have manual people counter clickers or door counters, but when there are multiple doors or large groups walking in at once, that leaves quite a bit of room for error. Today, given the trend and explosion of smartphones for every demographic, Simons can trust the Meraki location analytics data to track visitor presence, walk bys, return visitors, and duration of visits. “I can set up a report and it gets emailed to the folks at a particular location. It’s priceless, it really is.”

With the immense visibility and data captured in the Meraki dashboard, one of the initial challenges Simons ran into was in educating marketing teams and executives on how to digest this wealth of information. 

It [location analytics] is quite undersold and it’s not top of mind when people are looking for APs because they’re usually just looking for wireless coverage. Jason Simons, CIO of Information Services Group

The staff regularly receives positive comments from visitors about the quality and performance of the free WiFi. Citizens love the fact that they have access to reliable WiFi, there isn’t a limit, and they can access all of the content they want.

It’s a quality service and having a good experience is paramount. From an IT perspective, the fact that you can support providing a very good service is what we’re all about. That’s key for us. Jason Simons, CIO of Information Services Group

Aside from MR APs, the team is also taking advantage of Systems Manager Enterprise licenses to manage all employee devices, including those provided to field staff. The team has all council members equipped with iPhones and iPad Pros and all minutes, reports, documentation, and even meeting agendas are pushed out so there are no delays, printing charges, or courier charges. The ability to push out apps is a lifesaver for the team as they’ve migrated from a team that does device management to also include app management.

With Systems Manager, we can deliver top level professional services to these very important people. Jason Simons, CIO of Information Services Group

As the employee base has grown, there’s been a strong pressure to keep IT staff numbers low. For all new services offered to support internal customers, the overhead is a key factor in any decision. With Systems Manager installed on 170+ iPhones and 60+ iPads, along with a wide range of other devices, the team has mobilized all frontline staff with access to not only the standard applications like emails and calendar, but also information systems like the mapping of underground pipes. Though the team used to have standard Systems Manager licenses, the supervision feature convinced them that they needed the enterprise version. All government devices are branded with custom wallpapers and lock screens, and IT can deploy email configurations remotely, and complete remote locks or wipes—though perhaps more than they would like at times. 

Enabling staff to be more mobile and making them feel comfortable working in disconnected environments has been a success for Simons’ team. Though local governments are usually glacial in terms of ability to adapt, Simons’ team has proved that even with no increase in staff, they can still provide exceptional service to staff no matter where they are, as long as they have the right systems in place. While most organisations offer standard equipment to all employees, Simons and team are dedicated to providing each individual the appropriate piece of equipment specific to his or her work. “Whether they are providing shared services in another city district or local government area, we (IT) can support them. We can do all that through Meraki.” 

One of the area’s local art galleries is undergoing work to be earthquake strengthened and during this time, a temporary gallery has been set up. Meraki APs were installed there to support the guest WiFi network; however, one AP continued to report that it was disconnected, though none of the other APs were reporting issues. The team quickly uncovered the issue in the dashboard event log and within a few minutes, found that it was a cabling fault. With other solutions in the market, they would have never found the cause. They would have simply taken the AP out or done a completely new installation. However, with Meraki’s remote management capabilities, they were able to solve this one with complete ease. 

Simons spoke highly of his staff, mentioning that he has “a fantastic group and I really want them providing the most value to the organisation. Having something like Meraki, in effect self-managing, allows them to concentrate on things they can truly add value to. They should concentrate on new deployments or new facilities or new services for our internal customers.” We at Meraki can’t agree more as this aligns perfectly with Meraki’s own mission statement: That by simplifying powerful technology, we can free passionate people to focus on their mission. 

Most recently, thanks to the work of the IT team and the infrastructure they've put in place for the staff and citizens of the city, Whanganui was given the title of an ICF Smart City, being one of the top Smart 21 Communities and one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities in the world.

It’s [Meraki] just phenomenal and it probably can’t be overstated. When I talk to industry peers, I stress the cloud based management, the configurations, and the visibility, available anytime, anywhere.Jason Simons, CIO of Information Services Group