The Northland Regional Council (NRC) and Environment Waikato are spearheading a project to develop a system dubbed ‘IRIS’ – the Integrated Regional Information System – to process Regional Councils’ environmental monitoring, regulatory and administrative work.
Another eight Regional Councils have also expressed interest in exploring the IRIS concept, which would be one of the biggest collaborative projects of its type and offer a cost-effective solution to a growing problem Councils face as their existing individual computer systems effectively come to the end of their working lives.
Ken Paterson, Chief Executive Officer for the Northland Regional Council, says working with other Councils could ultimately save Northland ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, making it good financial, technical and common sense.
He says the complexity and types of work Regional Councils carry out necessitates a system that simply can’t be purchased off-the-shelf.
Unlike District or City Councils – whose computer systems tend to relate to specific land-based properties or to infrastructural assets like roads or sewerage systems – Regional Councils environmental monitoring and other work requires them to know the location of a myriad of activities and where and how they are happening.
“Northland Regional Council staff alone log thousands of environmental and other monitoring activities annually. But our existing system is now about seven years old, we can’t get enhancements for it and technical support is becoming increasingly limited.”
Mr Paterson says when he joined the Northland Regional Council earlier this year, its ratepayers had been facing a potential bill of anywhere from $750,000 to several million dollars to replace its existing system.
Unhappy at that cost and believing a collaborative approach would offer technical and financial advantages, he had pitched the idea for an IRIS-type system to his fellow Regional Council Chief Executives.
As a result NRC and Environment Waikato are now poised to call for expressions of interest from companies keen to partner with Regional Councils to develop the system.
The two Councils expect this initial feasibility work will attract interest from both New Zealand and overseas companies and hope to have identified a preferred partner by early next year.
Although the NRC and Environment Waikato are currently leading the project, another eight Councils have also expressed potential interest in IRIS and are helping to jointly fund the initial $30,000 costs involved. They are Auckland Regional Council, Environment Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Horizons and Taranaki Regional Councils, the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Environment Southland and the West Coast Regional Council.
Mr Paterson says companies keen to become potential development partners will be assessed against a number of criteria.
“Once a preferred partner has been identified, we should be in a position to prepare more accurate costings and a detailed project plan. It will then be up to Regional Councils individually to make their own decisions as to whether they wish to proceed.”
Mr Paterson says ultimately IRIS could require a joint total investment of several million dollars. Provided enough Councils were prepared to back it, several thousand Regional Council staff around the country could be using the system from 2009.
The Expression of Interest document is available at www.gets.govt.nz