Anthony Whitmore explains the two key priorities for the NCAOC as it decommissions its mainframe and scales up its hybrid cloud network
Anthony Whitmore has lived a unique ‘double life’ at North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (NCAOC), and the Chief Technology Officer is now tasked with managing two divergent priorities in 2021.
Having worked at NCAOC for 32 years, he left in 2017, only to come out of retirement and be re-appointed CTO, as NCAOC made a strategic decision to outsource application development. With this second tenure, IT stakes have been raised. As a statewide 100- county migration to the cloud gets underway, mainframe decommissioning will begin.
“We must continue to manage this legacy mainframe over the next three years as we build out more counties, every few months, to our new case management system,” Whitmore explains. “We’re going to be managing two business continuity efforts, one gradually decommissioning and the cloud gradually increasing.”
By winding down the mainframe, NCAOC benefits from cost avoidance on its current infrastructure which can be applied to SaaS rollout and engagement. “We won’t be purchasing a 100-county infrastructure – this way it’s more scalable and cost effective. Some of our applications are still based on mainframe and we want to get off it, for cost effectiveness and resource management. Five counties will be cloud based by the end of the year.”
Key strategic partner Tyler Technologies, the largest provider of software to the US public sector, was chosen as application hosting vendor, and the Texas-based firm has been selected as NCAOC’s case management vendor too. “We had to create a technology strategic plan, to see how we get to be where we need to be for this new cloud hosted integrated cloud management system. There were lots of transformations, and we designed the network to support hybrid cloud.”
With 2020 spent in the design phase, implementation is about to start. The statewide rollout for an initial application replacement will complete in April and a second statewide application replacement effort will complete in the May time frame. At that point some mainframe services will gradually be wound down. The bulk of application replacement will occur with sub-sets of counties being migrated to new ICMS starting in July of 2021, with an incremental number of counties being migrated through 2023-24. Each county rollout will allow for mainframe service decommissioning.
The new hybrid cloud network aims to be completed by October, covering 250 sites across North Carolina. “Hybrid will provide us with a more robust, resilient, scalable and secure network infrastructure, as the case management system moves to a paper-less system,” he said. “The projects on the books right now are going to take us well into 2021, potentially into 2022.”
Microsoft is another key partner, as NCAOC moved from an on-premise email system to O365 across the state. “We completed that effort in 2019, moving to cloud-based email, and replaced all of our difficult file-based infrastructure with Cloud storage – OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams. That was a foundational technology to integrate with the case management system.”
Acceleration into eCourts era
The Office365 migration proved fortuitous as it allowed NCAOC to respond quickly to COVID-19 and provide teleworking capability, although the acceleration did present legislative challenges.
“The pandemic threw us into ‘e-Courts’ quicker than we anticipated. The adoption rate for video conferencing, to replace typical court processes and some of the legal aspects, has accelerated our effort, and we’ve seen over 1,000% increase in video. We’re probably not going to revert some of our processes back to in-court, because of the efficiencies and effectiveness of video conferencing.
“We deployed infrastructure in response to COVID-19 that was originally destined for the ICMS – the Integrated Case Management System rollout, which saw us replace desktops with 3,000 laptops, giving core personnel the ability to work from home,” Whitmore said. With an eye to the future, and the new case management system, they are now a ‘mobile workforce’, enabling them to work in the courtroom or at home.
Through federal COVID funding, NCAOC purchased infrastructure that enabled creation of more immersive courtroom proceedings, encompassing cameras, large monitors, with integrated speakers and microphones, to allow the judge, prosecution and defense to talk to remote witnesses and defendants.
“We have the courtroom AV infrastructure in place but don’t plan to implement it until the latter part of this year, and intend to expand wireless,” he said. “Currently we offer it in the courtroom only and will expand it across NCAOC offices to provide a more mobile experience. In future, wireless will allow us to incur cost savings by reducing switchport counts.”
As a CISCO partner, NCAOC also had Webex in place, which offers another benefit when moving from in-court appearances to video conference solutions. He added that NCAOC is looking at online tools to monitor digital courtrooms, to be proactive and predictive, and know when devices are about to have issues.
NCAOC has also worked with partners in the Executive Branch and public safety, to test and integrate their respective video solution infrastructures, negating the need to transport prisoners to the courthouse. There is also opportunity to partner with local police departments across the state.
Heightened security and risk management
With cloud technologies, and in adhering to state statute, security initiatives are paramount. “We brought on a new Chief Information Security Officer, Risk Management Officer and Privacy Officer, and adopted a Security Governance structure based on national standards – and that’s allowed us to create our security framework to be able to support service level agreements with Tyler Technologies and Microsoft, and other Cloud business partners,” says Whitmore.
“The security office has been expanded with other personnel; I want to make sure they’re capable of auditing and monitoring our operational security, to ensure our network ops and infrastructure teams are compliant with all policies, and all our vendors are compliant with our procedures too. We put a strong emphasis on Risk Management to make sure we’re compliant internally and externally.
NCAOC has also purchased AWS storage infrastructure where we will be piloting some NCAOC-owned and managed storage infrastructure and an application.”
“We are going to have to evaluate our field support resources, because we’re moving to paper-less court system and with the new technologies, we are going to need to assess our ability to support 100 counties across the state.”
A third party program management team is tasked with managing all risk, to ensure data conversion that we’re migrating off the mainframe is being carried out on time and customized with Tyler applications. “We attempt to mitigate risk by hiring the external project managers, so everything is seamless,” said Whitmore.
In the meantime, training is being stepped up, predominantly online. “We started the e-Citation last year and will continue to train officers this year. It will take magistrates six months to be familiar with e-Warrant applications, and training will be mostly online through Tyler.”