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Staatsbosbeheer

Nature meets IT

Data jumble

Lots of companies failed because of a lack of integration. Webshops, banks, and stores with multiple locations: they all live on interoperability. This certainly did not apply to Staatsbosbeheer. Despite its public character and its many business units, the quasi-governmental institution was doing just fine.

But times are changing, and speed and ease of use are now crucial rather than nice to have. Even more reason to improve these features, so Henk Nijburg and Robbert Mackiewicz thought. At the headquarters of Staatsbosbeheer in Amersfoort, we discussed the ESB implementation and the collaboration with the Yenlo gurus.

staatsbosbeheer

How to modernize the greenest organization of the Netherlands

Thinking of Staatsbosbeheer, a complex IT infrastructure is probably not the first thought that pops into your mind. But appearance can be deceiving. Staatsbosbeheer deals with several businessunits such as nature management, recreation, and real estate that exchange and process thousands of messages per day.
On top of that, there is a constant exchange of data about employees, finance, and planning. Add to this the high number of voluntary projects and events, and you will understand that the IT department dealt with a jumble of data connections.

Thinking of Staatsbosbeheer, a complex IT infrastructure is probably not the first thought that pops into your mind. But appearance can be deceiving. Staatsbosbeheer deals with several businessunits such as nature management, recreation, and real estate that exchange and process thousands of messages per day. On top of that, there is a constant exchange of data about employees, finance, and planning. Add to this the high number of voluntary projects and events, and you will understand that the IT department dealt with a jumble of data connections.

Henk Nijburg, information architect and coordinator interfaces, has first-hand experience. "There is a tremendous diversity of business processes across Staatsbosbeheer”, he explains. "You simply lose track." Although some of the existing systems were connected, they lacked a point of converging, and data could not be re-used either. "We seriously lacked documentation", adds Henk. "Only a few IT-specialists knew how the software infrastructure was set up. If they would leave, their expertise would leave with them."

“Is an ESB really necessary?”

Clearly, it was time for a new approach. Things started moving with the implementation of the CSMi (Conversation Management System international). This system was brought in to aggregate and analyse incoming information about nature- and site management. This would lead to a better insight in planning schedules, the work to be done and real estate data. It was a great idea, but there was one important element missing. The CSMi was not linked to the financial system, which played a particularly significant role in the data exchange story.

After a careful preliminary analysis, the ESB from open source vendor WSO2 was bought to enable this link after all. "Both Henk and I then started lobbying to connect the ESB to all of the other systems as well," says Robbert Mackiewicz, technical architect. But not everyone was excited about this time-consuming implementation. "’Is an ESB really necessary?’ people asked me,” says Henk, laughing. "But it was about time we centralized.”

Dare to look beyond your department

Henk and Robbert’s powers of persuasive seemed to work. The ESB was further expanded and made useful to the entire organization. As Staatsbosbeheer had relied on the assistance of the Yenlo gurus during the implementation of the CMSi, they were also involved in this next step. Together with Henk and Robbert, the Yenlo gurus charted the applications and business systems of Staatsbosbeheer, and documented everything they could possibly find: systems and the way they were structured, data re-use, standards for information exchange, and agreements on security and authorization. “Nobody likes documenting. But it is critical for every organization that wants to formalize its procedures and especially for Staatsbosbeheer”, says Henk. “We simply have too many domains and corresponding applications to not register our knowledge.” The ESB project went beyond the borders of the IT team. “As an information architect, you need to look beyond your department”, says Henk. “We deal with the structure of the entire company.”

yenlo expert of wso2
Successfully delivered for Staatsbosbeheer by our experts. Delivered by our experts

More complex than expected

The implementation of the ESB marked the start of a major clean-up. “Lots of things had to be done”, Robbert explains. “Looking back, plenty of applications and business systems were not ESB ready.” There was a strong lack of control, and little had been done with information and business analysis. This directly influenced the functioning of the installed APIs and webservices. “The project turned out to be much bigger than we thought”, explains Robbert. “At first, this was kind of a setback.”

Fortunately, things turned out well in the end. Together with Henk and Robbert, the Yenlo gurus gave their all. “They literally detected every single problem”, says Henk. “They reported on all issues, which resulted in a clear image of all the improving areas.” When asked about the collaboration with Yenlo, he is more than satisfied. “Robbert and I wanted to know exactly how everything worked. How does the system operate? How do we translate the legacy systems to the new method? The team explained this to us very well.”

The ESB is ready to go, and the latest applications will go live soon. Contracts and invoices for debtors are being exchanged as we speak. Thanks to a new dashboard, different teams will get insight into the data flows that run through the organization. “This is not just practical because of the visual aspects”, explains Robbert. “Employees will understand the data flow, and when you understand how something works, it comes to life”. In the future, Staatsbosbeheer wants to collaborate with external developers, universities and the public more closely. “An ESB is capable of making all of that happen”, says Robbert.

“They deliver quality, and they include us in every step they take. That is what counts.”

“Much of our data is useful to other groups, and the other way around”, he explains. “Think of a simple thing as changing a hiking path. As a hiker, you will soon be able to communicate changes and suggest them yourself”. The ESB is a great starting point to make such future dreams come true, and who knows what else it might set in motion. The Yenlo gurus form a great support, Henk tells us. “They deliver quality, and they include us in every step they take. That is what counts.”

About Staatsbosbeheer

Staatsbosbeheer manages the forests and natural areas of the Netherlands. Together with 960 employees and even more volunteers, the quasi-governmental institution works on the conservation and development of our green heritage. Quite the task, you might say! Staatsbosbeheer operates in several divisions, including Property Management, Experience & Utilize, Soil & Buildings, and Development & Management. They organize events and activities, set up strategies and carry out operational tasks. They do so for the whole country, but also for each separate province and region.

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"Robbert and I wanted to know exactly how everything worked. The team explained this to us very well."

Henk Nijburg, Information Architect and Coordinator Interfaces

Staatsbosbeheer has a close partnership with several governmental organizations, such as the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Department of Public Works, and the twelve Provinces. Staatsbosbeheer is accountable to the government and society and publishes updates and reports regularly. A greater involvement of the public, the business world, and social organizations is one of their main drivers.

Solutions and Services we used to make this project a huge success.

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