Rivierenland water council outsources completely generic IT infrastructure

The water council in Rivierenland has outsourced the complete generic IT infrastructure to the Open Line company. It is the first time this has happened in the Water Board’s country. The handover is expected to be completed in October.

To this end, the water board and the company have entered into an agreement for a period of ten years. “I am pleased that we have taken this step”, says Richard Bremer, Chief Information Officer at the Rivierenland Water Board. “Our vulnerability is reduced by the outsourcing and we can react more quickly to new developments.”

Richard Bremer

According to Bremer, the economies of scale make it easier to maintain knowledge at an acceptable price. “We can also realize facilities such as disaster recovery and cyber security and use best practices when performing the tasks. Open Line has an extensive customer base that makes this possible. Our own scale is too small for this.”

He cites another benefit of outsourcing the entire suite of generic information technology (IT) infrastructure, including ownership. “We can now focus more on new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Because this is where the development is going very fast.”

Operational technology remained in-house
What is meant by the generic IT infrastructure? Bremer explains: “I funnily enough call it the boiler house. This concerns everything necessary to use our software, such as servers, databases and networks. We keep application management and feature management in our own hands, as well as issuing screens and phones.”

The outsourcing itself is separate from the process management of purifications, pumping stations and overflows or the operational technology (OT). But again not quite. “The remote control software in the central control room runs in the office environment. It is important to clearly state the relationship between IT and OT.”

More security through outsourcing
The transfer of generic IT to an external party stems from the sourcing strategy that Richard Bremer had drawn up by the strategic consulting firm Quint when he became CIO in 2017. “This allows us to build in much more security. Because despite of the fact that Rivierenland is one of the largest water councils, we proved to be too vulnerable in connection with, among other things, the increasing cyber threats. A relatively small club was responsible for technical support in our organization. We are also becoming more and more dependent on digital technology .”

In addition, the organization must become more agile. “We are facing more and more and faster social developments. Think, for example, of the energy transition and climate change. By outsourcing the IT infrastructure, we can react faster.”

It caused a shock in the organization when the preference for outsourcing was announced. “A kind of bomb went off because the employees didn’t expect it and thought it was a bit scary to outsource information technology. We have discussed a lot internally. Other positions in the organization have been found for the team members involved. It has been a beautiful, painstaking process. It took us almost two years to make the decision.”

At that time, Bremer considered whether outsourcing at the Rijkswaterstaat computer center or the Shared Service Center under the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations would be justified. “It didn’t turn out to be a real option in either case.”

Quality first in supply
During the tender procedure, the Water Board was looking for a stable party with a broad track record. “The four companies we continued with after the initial selection match that profile.” The choice ultimately fell on the Limburg company Open Line. It happened after a careful consideration process, where quality was the most important criterion, says Bremer. “Of course the price played a role, but it was much less important. We now pay about the same as if we still did it ourselves. For us, a lower price was not the reason to outsource.”

Open Line has been in existence for more than twenty years and provides managed cloud services to more than 140 companies and organisations, mainly in the public sector (including two other water boards where management is partly outsourced) and in industry, social housing and care. According to Bremer, the company’s culture fits in well with Rivierenland’s Water Board. “It is not a mega-company where we as a customer would only be a grain of sand.”

An advantage is that Open Line has several computer centers, so that in the event of an accident it is possible to avoid the situation. Bremen. “If a bomb on the computer center would cause the generic IT infrastructure to fail, another center would take over within a split second. It would have been very expensive to create such a backup yourself.”

The transition started
A new management organization within the Information and Digitization Department of the Water Council Rivierenland keeps its finger on the pulse. “It is the mouthpiece against Open Line. All levels are represented here, from operational to strategic.”

The transition has now started and will be completed in mid-October if all goes according to plan. It’s not a big bang, says Bremer. The transfer takes place according to the ‘lift and shift’ principle. “Pieces of our software are constantly dropped on Open Line until 80 percent is reached. Finally, the remaining part will be transferred in one weekend. Then we really come through. Helpful in this process is that many of our previous engineering choices conform to Open Line standards.”

Bremer also refers to Baseline Information Security Government (BIO), which was introduced a few years ago, the basic standard framework for information security within all layers of government. “One third of the checks in the BIO are now covered by Open Line. Cyber ​​security is really much better guaranteed.”

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