The five minute CIO: Kevin Kelly

31 Jan 2014

Kevin Kelly, CEO of the Kildare Community Network

Kevin Kelly, CEO of the Kildare Community Network, talks about managing the domain, moving to the cloud, and how a broad background helps bridge the gap between community needs and ICT capability.

What’s involved in running the IT and web services for and what’s your own role in that?

Two of us manage it; mainly we provide the content for community groups. We put up business information, as well. The local authority county council tends to look after its own site. We update directories, databases, and we get content in from numerous groups around the county. We would have a lot of contacts that would send us content. On a daily basis, we add content to the site, manage the county and supporting groups with web services.

Sometimes we run training workshops – we have one on WordPress coming up. A lot of community groups don’t have in-house IT expertise, so we would be an interface to them.

What does your work involve?

Different groups come to us at different times of the year. We worked with the launch of a new tourist body in the county, so we showed them how to launch the site, and they would have newsletters to send out and directories to manage. We try to facilitate them and assist them with it.

For example, there is a St Patrick’s Day festival in Clane which would be busy, and they would have systems to manage their own website, but we would help them with various aspects of that.

A lot of sites use WordPress now, but there are other systems people use. It depends on who you’re dealing with. When people might be managing a festival, it depends on their technical expertise. We don’t provide services free, we do charge for some of it. We resell domains and hosting ourselves, and any web development services. We don’t charge for community groups and non-profits to host, but if they want their own domain name, we would help with that.

In an overall sense, it’s promoting the county in a better way. That’s really the function of to bring all of the events in the county together in one location. On a county level, people don’t interact in the same way as with a small town or a parish.

How widely used is a service like this?

We’ve been using different stats packages to analyse our log files, but we have between 3m and 4m visitors a year. It depends on what you’re tracking. Our main parts of the site would be the business directory and the tourist site. But it would be quite busy.

The site’s very comprehensive: how do you keep it up to date and ensure the site stays up?

We manage certain aspects of the content on the site – the events directory, arts, education; we call them sub-portals. Other individuals would manage other aspects of the content of the site, so for example, tourist info body would manage their own.

My experience of it is, a large tourism body would have large resources, but other groups may have someone looking after it but that might peter out after six or 12 months. Small groups tend to rely on a single individual so we tend to manage content that we can stand over.

A lot of sporting organisations would have a lot of content and would manage their own sites.

Kildare Community network is a non-profit group; does that mean you have to be smart about how you spend your technology budget?

We generate some income through selling web services, and we get a budget from the council and grants from other organisations from time to time. Beyond hosting and software tools, we would do most of the web development work ourselves. So there’s no outsourcing. We don’t have web development costs from outside sources.

What impact does your community status have on how much you manage in-house and how much gets outsourced?

We’re more about providing development and development support. Hosting is not something we would get involved in. These days, it’s a service that you buy. We do provide certain services like domain names and a plethora of web services like databases. We can develop most of the systems ourselves. It has become easier. We develop in, so that’s really what we do. In terms of what we’re managing, if anything we’d probably sell on some of the work that we do.

You recently moved to a cloud service from Eircom. Can you explain the reasons for doing so?

We’ve had a relationship with Eircom for a long time. We used to host our own systems back in the early days of the web, but 24/7 hosting wasn’t feasible for us. At the time, the hosting industry was just developing in Ireland, and we got Eircom to manage and host our server. Then, recently, we needed to upgrade the server and we decided to move to their cloud offering.

We looked around at various hosting suppliers, but we were happy with the reliability of Eircom, and for any site, the most important thing is that it’s up, 99.99pc. Although cost is an important part, reliability is more important. You can’t have 24 or 48 hours’ downtime and we haven’t had that.

Was security a big factor for you?

Obviously, security has become more important lately. Security is always there, but when you buy a hosting service you take it that you’re going to be in a secure environment. It’s more in the media than ever that there have been significant servers being broken into and people’s personal details have been taken. It’s now in people’s minds because of high profile-server compromises.

It depends on the type of data you’re hosting on the web servers. We wouldn’t keep any credit-card details so we don’t have that issue. It’s purely information. If we need to process payments for an event, we would use PayPal or Realex. We don’t keep people’s personal details in databases, either.

A lot is said about how the cloud is more cost efficient. Did you find that in practice?

My experience would be that there’s not that much of a difference in costs. It’s a small enough market in Ireland for hosting services. If you have a managed server in a hosting environment, the cloud is the next step and there are some savings for that.

Have you seen an improvement since moving to the cloud service?

If you’re going to buy a hosting service, it has to be up: you can’t afford to be down. So that’s what you’re buying – that kind of reliability. Eircom has obviously upped its security services and we’re happy to go with that.

It’s faster and more reliable. We had an environment that was coming to an end. We were reluctant to update the site because the server wouldn’t be able to cope. It was something we had to do, and we decided we would wait until that was complete before we upgraded some back-end and front-end services.

We’re developing a new site and that will launch this year. We couldn’t do that with the old server. The new hosting environment is definitely more modern than what we had.

Tell me about your own background, and how you cross both the technology and the community side of things.

I started out in the business area, in computers and software development, and I have been a second-level teacher, so that would have made me more in tune with the community and education area. The three of those areas have kind of merged: I’m able to take on board people’s different levels of expertise and technical knowledge and work with that. A lot of the time in technology it’s the language and jargon that troubles people, so if you can break that down, that makes it easier.

At the end of the day, we offer a support service to assist people to make decisions that are based on what’s best for them. Technology can be fairly overwhelming to a lot of people. There’s no shortage of questions people are asking. That’s really the bottom line: the community groups are our customers, and you’ve got to take on board what they want and give them the best options.

We’ve always had a hands-on interaction with people. It’s not just about technology, it’s about what people are trying to achieve. That’s where we come in. We try and get as many people in Kildare up and running on the web, getting them to produce content that’s local. That’s what’s important. The means of doing this are so much easier now.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic