Finding the right way to deal with legacy systems is difficult in any business. But for VicRoads, with critical customer data for millions of Victorians stored in mainframes at the end of their lifecycles, it can be very hard to decide how to invest forward without spending too long working backward.
With a long-term partnership already in place with Telstra, VicRoads began the process of finding the ideal path into a modern cloud-first environment with the help of Telstra Purple. With a decision to build a native AWS solution for a new DevOps pipeline, while implementing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to interface the new systems with the old mainframes in a seamless yet cost-effective way, VicRoads has achieved incredible results in less than two years of transformation.
“Over the past two years our relationship with Telstra Purple has really matured significantly, away from 'boxes in the cloud',” says Stuart Campbell, Head of Platforms and DevOps at VicRoads. “Now the partnership starts right at the inception point. Having them involved in the conversation means Telstra Purple is seen as an extension of our actual team. They bring a strong level of accountability and commitment to what our brand is trying to achieve.”
Automating critical processes in the cloud
Campbell had needed to avoid overinvesting in end-of-life systems that still held essential licence and registration records. And with Telstra Purple’s help he found the right integration solution.
“We implemented an RPA product UI path,” he says. “We’ve been able to put all the modern smarts on there, running on AWS serverless technology for the business processing. RPA has allowed us to provide the fancy customer experience someone expects online, but rather than having to build an interface to the mainframe where the information lives, we now have software that emulates a human doing that process.”
Campbell says that the RPA system and his team’s DevOps and CI/CD processes have helped automate 12 such processes in just the last five months.
“There’s a significant cost saving attached to that because it was all being processed by a third party before,” he explains. “The cut to costs is in the region of around 75 per cent.”
That speed of execution has been achieved across a number of initiatives at VicRoads, and Campbell says the team has found itself achieving far more than many similar government departments thanks to its CI/CD platform enabling confident iterative execution.
“We’re delivering things at much lower cost and much quicker”
Stuart Campbell, Head of Platforms and DevOps
“We’re delivering things at much lower cost and much quicker,” says Campbell. “Our COVID response at VicRoads has seen a lot of investment in the AWS side of things so that transaction changes can be turned around in a matter of days, sometimes even hours. Going down the traditional application or server approach would have taken weeks to make changes going through a full lifecycle. But we’ve been able to say ‘OK, Premier has made an announcement, we’ve got to change something’, and have it done in hours. We’ve only been able to do that because of the transformational partnership with Telstra Purple.”
Taking a native AWS serverless approach
Telstra Purple lead AWS architect and trusted advisor Ben Fuller, who has worked closely with the VicRoads platform team, said Telstra Purple suggested going native, using a combination of AWS serverless and AWS developer tools in its approach to VicRoads to enable this kind of execution potential.
“At first the discussion was ‘a bunch of servers in the cloud’, but we saw the potential for putting great DevOps practices in place on an infrastructure as code platform,” says Fuller. “We’re using all native AWS tools like CodePipeline, CodeBuild, and CodeDeploy. It’s all Git-integrated and all deployment is driven through an automated pipeline so no human can interfere in the delivery process. Everything is driven from source control and version control.”
While this all codifies adherence to CI/CD, for Campbell this also foregrounds a critical feature for VicRoads – knowing exactly who has done what at any given point.
“If someone has a driver’s licence cancelled or something else goes wrong we need to know who did it,” says Campbell. “We can’t just say, ‘Sorry, the computer did it.’ The ombudsman doesn’t find that an acceptable answer. So the ancillary things like auditing and access controls aren’t the most glamorous thing with operating this type of environment, but they are critical for the way we deliver government services.”
A partnership built on trust and confidence
This also feeds back into Campbell’s confidence and trust in the partnership with Telstra Purple. With security at the heart of operating government services, and with billions of dollars and millions of customer records to be protected, Campbell feels Telstra Purple always keeps these concerns at the front of mind – without being asked to do so.
“Every change we make, and whatever the speed, they always have people with security implications on their mind and considering what we can do to lower our risk footprint. It’s a very holistic view from all the team members at Telstra Purple,” Campbell says.
Telstra Purple also runs a Well-Architected Review audit process to ensure nothing has been missed during the core work processes. Again, for Campbell, all these layers of support have given him the confidence to move forward faster than ever before.
“The guard rails are in place so we can iterate and develop at speed. If something goes wrong it is recoverable and it isn’t going to have significant detrimental impact,” says Campbell. “The speed with which we’ve been able to do these online transformations has meant we’ve taken about a million visits a year out of the customer service network. That’s not only a cost saving benefit, it has had organisation-wide benefits as well.”