Ready for anything now: ITS

29 June 2020

When the threat of fire was taking its toll on the south of Canberra and smoke was blanketing the city for weeks on end, no one knew a hailstorm and a pandemic would only add to what will become an incredibly difficult year.

But for the Information Services Technology Division (ITS), little did they know that transitioning the University to remote operations because of a virus pandemic during COVID-19 would have been done so successfully.

Both Geoff Rozenberg and Keith Howard have been in charge of two of the ITS teams responsible for ensuring ANU continues to operate during the three separate incidents of 2020.

Keith is in charge of the Information Technology Services’ Service Desk, the frontline team responsible for helping staff and students who might need assistance with anything related to the ANU IT network.

Geoff’s team, ITS Networks & Communications (or Netcomms), provides ANU with its data network and communications infrastructure – not just the physical wires and servers, but the foundations that allow ANU researchers, staff, students and the University itself to do business.

According to Geoff, his team took COVID-19 in its stride.

“COVID-19 is still business as usual for us, keeping the place running,” Geoff said.

“My team are on-site much of the time but during the lockdown we’ve have had the opportunity to catch up on some deferred maintenance. In a way it’s been a blessing.”

The team is already very experienced, resilient, mature, and adapts to changes easily, Geoff said.

“Our usual work makes us accustomed to working remotely, flexibly, responding to emergencies, incidents and disasters.”

Between January and June, Keith’s team, on the Service Desk, responded to approximately 14,000 queries – 8,000 phone calls and 6,000 emails requesting support for issues relating to working remotely and VPN connections.

“In January we purchased, configured and delivered over 100 laptops for remote work to critical staff in the thick of the bushfire smoke to ensure operations could continue for the uni,” he said.

Getting the devices to end users as quickly as possible was their priority.

“I spent a full weekend on campus in the smoke getting these devices ready to go for our client base,” Keith said.

When the smoke cleared, his team had to move to the next major issue - the hailstorm, which Keith believes was the biggest challenge they have faced this year.

“The following weeks were a challenge while we inspected the damage to the campus and arranged replacement hardware for many areas that suffered damage, all the while seeing our cars sitting in the carparks waiting to be collected for scrap,” he said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed Australia’s borders and ground everything to a halt, Keith’s team continued to provide assistance to students and staff remotely.

“After COVID and 2020, as a whole I personally believe ITS can handle anything that is thrown at us. This has been the most stressful and demanding year most of us have ever faced and we have risen to the challenge at every turn and delivered the best possible service we can,” he said.

Due to the remote nature of his team’s work, Geoff says they’ve coped well with the stresses of 2020.

“Friday afternoons we all meet for online ‘Happy Hour’, and share stories. We are a well-bonded bunch, with shared interests away from ANU that keep us close.”

Meanwhile community spirit also helped Keith’s team deliver on their work.

“Without the support and understanding of the wider community we surely would have cracked under the pressure.

“Through all of this we have built better professional relationships with other departments and provide an insight into what we do to help them better understand exactly what ITS provides to the University and what is involved to do so.”