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Management Briefing - NB PEI Educational Computer Network Outstanding Economic Impact

Author: ITS

Posted on Sep 16, 2016

Category: Management Briefings , General Interest

The NB/PEI Educational Computer Network (ECN) reduces IT costs for members—and thus funders including the provinces—by $1M per year—a 100% return on investment. Through economies of scale, and with expertise contributed by all, ECN members pay less for many software applications, connections to commercial internet services, and equipment, than they could independently. Furthermore, ECN has been amazingly successful in attracting capital investment from the federal and provincial governments--over $4.3M has been contributed to the development and expansion of the NB research and education communications network over the last five years. Inestimable value from collaboration, cooperation, and highly professional relationships among the members has contributed greatly to ECN’s reputation across Canada as having one of the best governance, management, and operating models among similar organizations.

But that’s not all. ECN is actively pursuing a strategy of data centre consolidation, with individual member institutions co-locating IT services and infrastructure centrally at UNB rather than housing and maintaining their own costly facilities. Mount Allison University, and St. Thomas University, for example, have migrated much of their IT infrastructure like enterprise software applications, data storage, and backups, to UNB’s newly renovated data centre. ECN invested in the rebuild project, and now schools are reaping the benefits—MTA and STU will experience combined annual savings of at least $120,000 on hardware, software, facility, and other costs. Several others plan to follow suit.

ECN has provided shared IT services to universities and colleges in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island for 45 years. Over this time, ECN membership expanded from just a few schools to include all publicly funded universities and some colleges in the two provinces. Recently, New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) and Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick (CCNB) joined ECN; now all major publicly funded post-secondary education institutions in NB and PEI are members. ECN is governed by a Board of Directors consisting of the Presidents/CEOs of member institutions, and is managed by a Network Committee consisting of the IT directors of the members. The Information Technology Services (ITS) unit here at UNB is the main operator and services provider for ECN shared IT services.

The New Brunswick Research and Education Network (NBREN) was formed five years ago to design, build, and manage vastly upgraded data networks to ECN members, the NB colleges (NBCC/CCNB), and National Research Council (NRC) facilities in New Brunswick. The network, which is highly redundant across the province, provides dedicated, high-speed, high-capacity data and communications connectivity to all member campuses and sites, and to the broader research and education network across Canada and around the world. ITS is the operator, manager, and service provider for NBREN.

Until recently, the ECN and NBREN have been regarded and managed as separate entities. With NBCC/CCNB becoming members of ECN, there is no longer any reason to retain this division (NRC is no longer a full partner in the network). The ECN Board has endorsed merging the organizations, and the next five-year ECN Agreement (ECN reviews and renews itself on a five-year cycle--the agreement covering 2017-2022 is being drafted now) will reflect this change. NBREN benefits from ECN’s formal governance and management structure, while ECN members benefit from having better insight into NBREN operations, and participate in decision-making on network strategy and improvement.

ECN economic impact data

  • ECN and NBREN combined:
    • $1.085M average savings from 11-12 to 15-16 (after operating costs subtracted)
    • $1M budget average 11-12 to 15-16 = 100% ROI
    • Data Centre consolidation: MTA/STU save $120,000 per year, 16-17 onward
      • Other institutions will save at least $25,000, 16-17 onward (facilities)
    • External capital investment and network support: 11-12 to 15-16
      • CANARIE (Federal government): $3.14M + $214k + $120k = $3.474M
      • Province of NB: $850k
      • Total: $4.324M

Terry Nikkel, AVP, ITS, Sept. 9, 2016