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Information, Communication and Technology: acting locally thinking globally

When I look back five years ago I recall walking into a few offices in a remote community that was more than isolated in a physical sense from regional and urban centres like Kalgoorlie, Perth and Adelaide. Tjuntjuntjara had no local area network for community administration. The School, which is State-run, did but PTAC had very little. Back then Paupiyala Tjarutja, our community organisation, ran a small clinic or nursing post which, like the PTAC administration office, had a couple of old PCs connected via modems to the internet running at dial up speeds. There were no servers (network or phone IP-enabled) or blue ethernet cables, few data ports, DFS drives or sharing across a local network. Phones were the only means of communication from office to office: from the clinic to the office, CRC and women's centre, all located in the centre of the community within or just over 50m away from the main office. The preferred form of communication was walk and talk but the community lacked resources which could only be obtained through capacity building.

And for those not in the know: IT is the essential service tail that wags the community development dog! Without good communications life is difficult.

We started our IT journey with a plan: albeit a rudimentary one but it did spell out the need to sort internal and external communications and establish LANs with servers and redundancy across the ever-expanding PC network. The Health Service was the main driver of change; simply because changing from a clinic or rudimentary nursing post to a comprehensive primary health care service necessitated better communications and information management, data security and access to on line services. So we changed from the Tjuntjuntjara Clinic to Spinifex Health Service and the rest was planned ICT improvements moving to accreditation.

Getting Hit Solutions on board as our IT Tech Support was perhaps the biggest change - they are part of our team now and deal with the myriad of support requests from staff. Colin Lock and Guy Hopkins have been amazing. Then came registration with Donortec Connecting up for donated and discounted software and hardware. No non-profit with charitable status should ignore that opportunity. Its a case study in itself on how Microsoft, CISCO and other IT products can make a difference in the transition to cloud-based services.

A big job on the infrastructure front was installing underground Cat 6 ethernet cabling between the clinic, office, women centre and CRC. That created the rudimentary hub and spoke model we have for our LAN today, with servers in the office, clinic and CRC. The CRC's server is a new addition that lays the foundation for meshing of the telecentre and community housing public or "wild" network and WiFi. That's a work in progress!

And when Bega Garnbirringu Health Service in Kalgoorlie donated Spinifex Health a building and lodging house as a base in Boulder in 2011 we suddenly had three locations to connect via satellite internet services: Perth (finance); Millen St (Boulder office) and our LANs in Tjuntjuntjara. That required what's called DFS (data file synchronisation) between two servers and better internet. Over time we improved two-way satellite services to improve bandwidth, introduced some cloud-based software solutions and started meshing the corporate network using Ubiquity nanobridges (senders and receivers for corporate wifi line of site).

Where to next? As they say in the IT sector its all about bandwidth when connecting to the big-wide world. Cloud-based services and poor latency on satellites dont go well together so we're gradually improving speed and latency as cost effective options emerge for video conferencing and cloud services and VPN access to remote servers. The Skymuster PIP satellite services will significantly improve our options, as will our Activ8me trial of meshed public wifi in the community for private use.

Our web design project will be important over the coming months! We are working over design elements, colour and the look and feel of the various sites we are developing. The Health Service, CRC, Women Centre, PTAC landing page, Ilkurlka, School and Pila Nguru are all in the mix for an improved online presence. We are going to develop a local cloud via meshed WIFI and we are keen on creating a digital community that doesn't feel the tyranny of distance is anything but another problem to solve in an ever changing world!

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