The Federal Public Service Justice is responsible for legal order in Belgium. FPS Justice serves three constitutional powers and provides both administrative and operational support: legislation, judicial powers (courts), and executive power of which the prison system is an example. Victim support is also a responsibility of the FPS Justice. To this end, the FPS Justice can rely on around 23.000 employees, of whom 11.000 work for the judiciary and 10.000 for the prison system.
Digitization within Justice
One of the government’s ambitions is to fully digitize. Technology and IT in general have become crucial work instruments today, and the FPS Justice is no exception. Jimmy De Laet, ICT Infrastructure director at FPS Justice: “We choose not to do this with a big bang. Instead, we prefer a systematic approach to make improvements and finally come up with a complete digital story.” Approximately 90% of the criminal law chain has recently switched to MaCH, an application for central file management. The civil side has now also started to do this for the labour courts and the corporate courts. The prison system has been using a similar central application for detention management: Sidis.
Crucial here, and this is one of the biggest challenges, is the fact that you need a good and high-performing network to work fully digitally. The existing network was totally outdated, not only the courthouses but also in the prisons. As an additional challenge, the FPS Justice’s services are spread across around 240 buildings in Belgium. Certainly in justice it is important that all services are interconnected for the applications to be able to exchange information.
Because of the size of the project, the FPS Justice looked for an external partner to renew the network equipment in all these buildings. A public tender – mandatory for government assignments of this caliber – asked for a scalable and stable network. One of the criteria for the solution was to prepare the new network for new technologies such as video conferencing, Voice over IP, NAC and other wireless applications.
Orange Cyberdefense was the winner of the European tender. “Up to that point, this partner was unknown to us”, says Chris Van Regemorter, ICT Project Manager at FPS Justice. “Still, they had a strong offer, and both in price and quality Orange Cyberdefense appeared to be the best on the market at the time.”
The solution of Extreme Networks was chosen to replace the old switches. We also opted for a solution with the SPB network protocol. This enabled the telecom team of the FPS Justice to bundle lines and it really simplified network management. “In a large building such as the Palace of Justice in Antwerp, for example, we have a main and backup line from our provider. Thanks to the contribution of Orange Cyberdefense, we were able to bundle these, which gave us a greater capacity and we can now use the full bandwidth”, explains Chris Van Regemorter.
The collaboration with Orange Cyberdefense went very smoothly from the start. The project manager especially appreciated the flexibility of the partner and the network engineers as an added value. “As they were very flexible in their hours, they could immediately respond to changes in the schedule of court hearings.”
At the beginning of the project, FPS Justice had little experience with the configuration of new core switches and the SPB protocol. Chris Van Regemorter: “For this we could rely on the technical expertise of the network engineers, which resulted in a fast and successful implementation. Afterwards, Orange Cyberdefense has also organized hands-on workshops for our people so we could take over the daily management.”
The simple management is perhaps the most important technological benefit for the FPS Justice’s network service.
Some of the biggest results are the increased capacity, speed and performance of the new network. “This enables us to offer users up to 20 times faster network connection”, says Jimmy De Laet, ICT Infrastructure director at FPS Justice.
Business reliability has strongly improved as well and the IT services of the FPS Justice now have more possibilities to offer better security and safety. “For the users themselves, there may not be a measurable difference. But it is only because of the improvements to the network that applications such as MaCH and Sidis can be properly used in the field”, explains Jimmy De Laet.
In addition, the renewed network offers a number of new functionalities. For example, Wi-Fi is now offered in the large courthouses and in the buildings of the central administration. The intention is to expand that wireless network even further in the coming years. Jimmy De Laet: “Another very important aspect – especially in corona times – is the possibility for high-performing video conferencing. On the one hand, court hearings can now be held and followed remotely. On the other hand, detainees have the opportunity to have family visits through video conferencing. And you cannot have video conferencing without a good network and decent switch equipment.”
The renewal of the network is the priority for the near future. “An upgrade of the network in 240 buildings is not something you can do overnight. The switch to the new equipment of Extreme Networks is an operation that will continue in the coming years – in collaboration with Orange Cyberdefense. It will always be necessary to further optimize and improve the network. And to expand as digitization will only continue and the network requirements will only get bigger and bigger”, says Jimmy De Laet.
The FPS Justice will also continue to standardize and modernize its network infrastructure. After an increase in bandwidth, the focus will probably shift towards extra security and inventory of the network.
“We used to sit on the defendant’s bench with our telecom team. Now we have been acquitted on all counts.” Chris Van Regemorter, ICT Project Manager at FPS Justice.