Focus: Small Business Solutions and Cloud Services.
This case study was written to highlight that not all clouds are the same – this client was using an unsatisfactory cloud service and IT Engine migrated them to a more reliable and robust service that delivered the availability and functionality they needed to be productive and get on with their own work.
The Rural General Practice Network (RGPN) was established in the early 1990s by a small group of enthusiastic rural general practitioners to provide a support network for their colleagues. From small beginnings the Network has grown into a professional organisation headed by a chief executive and governed by an Executive Board. The Executive Board is comprised of GPs, a rural hospital doctor, rural nurses, rural nurse specialists and nurse practitioners who ensure the Network’s governance reflect the reality of frontline rural primary healthcare.
There is one recruitment service under the auspices of the Network:
- NZLocums is the only Government-funded rural General Practitioner and Nurse Practitioner recruitment service in New Zealand. Their contract with the Ministry of Health, provides general practitioners with a rural ranking score of 35 or more, eligibility to apply for a two week break once a year (conditions apply). Under this contract, they also recruit for permanent rural general practitioner vacancies and provide long-term assistance.
In 2011 RGPN decided that to suit their business model and future growth plans a Cloud based platform would be ideal for them. At that time their data was on a local server, which was now due for renewal. In researching the replacement costs, alternative options were also assessed. Taking into account the then current disaster recovery plan, RGPN found that the tape based backup system was not sufficient for their needs, as it meant it would take too long to gain access to the recovered data and that the data recovered would then be significantly out of date.
Their current IT systems was were adequate, they had not experienced any down time’ but they knew there were better solutions in the marketplace that would allow flexibility for staff to work from different locations. RGPN also have a custom built, web based database, which they were pleased with, and this had been designed to support their longer term plans to allow remote working arrangements for staff around New Zealand and when staff attended international conferences/trade shows. Their focused brief was to achieve the following;
- To incorporate their new database into any new cloud system.
- To be able to have all their data, files, financial operations, and operate totally from the Cloud.
- To allow remote working.
- To move their telephone systems into the Cloud.
In September 2011, RGPN attended a trade exhibition, and one of the key exhibition sponsors were an IT company who promoted themselves as specialists in Cloud based solutions, specifically targeting the Health sector. One of the speakers was a customer of this IT Company, who was there to explain their experiences after their offices were closed due to the major Christchurch earthquakes. Hearing their troubles and the speed at which they had their operation back up and running confirmed to RPGN that having a Cloud based solution was the best way forward.
RGPN then engaged three companies to submit proposals for IT services. Once the proposals were reviewed the work was actually awarded to the IT company they had seen at the conference. For this case study this company will be called Company X. RGPN moved from their on premises Small Business Server to Company X’s private-cloud operation in March 2012.
From the day their IT systems were moved over, problems began. The major concern was their database was not working as it had been prior to the move. Other issues included such problems as not being able to save new contract data, missing information and the more challenging problem that these issues were not consistent to all users. Company X had full access to build a relationship with the database developer, and ensure that it was a seamless transition. This did not happen.
Further problems quickly arose when the cloud platform became unstable and it meant that RGPN were frequently off line, sometimes for up to 3-4 hours per day, and more than one day per week. This was causing huge business issues, and a strong lack of confidence in Company X. It’s hard to put a financial loss around this as a figure, but the staff time that was wasted, and time critical work not being completed, was hugely expensive for RPGN. Catching up with backlog work after being off line was a major part of this.
Company X had promised that although they were based in Auckland, RGPN would have local support in Wellington. Initially, this was the case but their Wellington staff member left the company shortly after RGPN moved their operations to this cloud platform. During the next 12 months Company X had very rapid staff decreases and went from an 27 staff to 6, which also included the loss of the CEO.
This again, was a serious problem for RGPN as every time they called for assistance, they dealt with a different person, having to repeat conversations, which caused delays in response and not being able to sort out technical issues quickly. To try and resolve some of the database problems RPGN decided to call in an independent IT consultant to advise them what was going wrong and why. The consultant identified the problems quickly; these are what he found;
- The cloud based platform was using a different browser version to the browser used to create their database.
- The database had been hardcoded to a specific browser version.
Company X was now upgrading their platform, but it was agreed that RGPN would not be upgraded until the database issues were understood and resolved. Over the coming months Company X moved other clients to a new platform. Unfortunately, RGPN was not moved over to the new platform until solutions to the still on-going issues could be found, and solved reliably. During the coming months the platform RGPN was on became more and more unstable resulting in constant server restarts and further downtime for staff.
In 2012, Company X was put on the market for sale. It was then decided by RGPN, that they would not be staying with Company X or any new purchaser so formal notice was given. This decision was also assisted by the report provided by the independent contractor.
RGPN then commenced the tender process for a new IT provider. RGPN still believed a cloud solution was the way forward for them; they just needed an IT company who knew what they were doing. Three companies were chosen to meet and potentially, to tender. At this point RGPN also had a call from Microsoft about their current licensing arrangements. In discussing some IT issues they were having, Microsoft recommended an IT provider that they believed would be able to help solve their issues and this is how IT Engine (who are a Small Business Gold Competency Partner with Microsoft), met with RGPN to offer their expertise.
Julie, (General Manager-Recruitment) and Kylie (Executive Officer-Contracts and Special Projects) said this about their first meeting, and the subsequent tender proposal:
“At this meeting, it became clear that from what Delia, and Roland from IT Engine said to us, their thoughts and suggestions, were much more in line with ours. Also, we found that they communicated well, and explained the whole process and what the systems could do, in a way we really understood.
Having been through such a negative experience with an IT supplier, we were clear about what we did NOT want as well! The whole project was really well planned and laid out in the tender document, the stages, the bite size chunks, what would happen, and when, and these stages all fitted with our current and future business model. Whilst IT Engine provided an entire Cloud based solution the other providers were offering a more hybrid solution.
At the initial meeting we all got on well, as you can imagine IT had been a stressful area for us, so the confidence in the team at IT Engine was vital for us to even consider them. One other impressive figure for us, was the stability of the IT Engine team, the longevity of their employees working for the company. Another benefit, although, they were local to us in Wellington – they were able to support us as a nation-wide business. All the tenders were submitted, references checked by an independent IT consultant and recommendations were made. Our CEO made the final decision and awarded the work to IT Engine. So far so good!”
Julie added this specifically about Microsoft 365:
“We were looking for a solution that could deliver communications, collaboration, and security – and it had to do that from anywhere at any time. It also has to be cost effective. With that in mind, IT Engine recommended Office 365 to us. With our email on a 99.9% high-availability platform, we now have no time-wasting outages.
The reliability of the platform means our data is secured with automated backups and enterprise level anti-virus and anti-malware. This is very reassuring, as we need to maintain good governance standards. Our team can access their email, information and files quickly and effectively. Office 365 has saved us money across all areas of our business and we are really pleased we took that step as well as all our other IT plans.
“As CEO of the New Zealand Rural Practice Network it is paramount that our board have confidence in my ability to manage our business and any associated day to day risks in a competent and reliable manner. During the last two years we have had a roller coaster experience in terms of the provision of IT capability and services.
During this period we not only experienced a situation of extreme uncertainty and loss of confidence in Company X, we also suffered a financial hit due to the associated down time suffered across our business and the extra hours which were worked by my team to make up the time lost due to the poor service received from them.
When we were eventually introduced to IT Engine and they presented their capacity for delivery of a service which more than met our expectations it was a great relief to place our trust and business platform in their hands.
The stand out components of their proposal were that they presented a hybrid solution with predominantly Cloud offering industry-standard products, notably Office365. They presented the most comprehensive proposal which was backed by a full Service Level Agreement. They also displayed the best overall understanding of our requirements.”
Delia Gill, MD IT Engine explains what happened next:
“Our plan was to move all of the RGPN’s mail to Office 365 and put their files onto a small micro server that would be held in their offices, this was taking them down the hybrid path, but it was agreed that a lot of their files were not used anymore and could be archived. The plan was to move their files to the micro server then as they accessed them, move them into the Office 365 environment. However nature decided to give us a little bump on the way.
Unfortunately, the Wellington region of New Zealand suffered a 6.5 earthquake, on Sunday 21st July. RGPN’s offices were declared unsafe, and nobody was allowed in the building at all. We had previously delivered the micro server to their offices. This was an awful situation for them, and we decided to put the project on hold. They were allowed back into the building briefly (supervised, and very quick) and we were able to get the new server back to our offices.
The old system was working at that time, and we initially agreed that the impact of being out of their building and having to face a new IT system might be too stressful for the staff but then Company X’s system really started to fail. They had bad drives in their servers and refused to do a repair.
From there it was all action stations. We started an email transfer from Company X to Office 365 and arranged for their files to be sent down on an external hard drive. In order to load all the email on to the company laptops we brought them all into our office over a weekend and increased our own internet connection. The files were moved to the micro server now located in our offices, staff were able to access files from this and move to Office 365 as per our original plan”
RGPN did not actually get back into their offices until 10th November, so they were displaced for nearly 4 months, with no warning. Their company laptops were in the plans for upgrading, as part of their 4 year rotation plan, and this part of the work was brought forward, and so they were all using the same software (they had previously been locked into Office 2007 and XP under the Citrix environment).
December 2013 found RGPN back in their offices, the micro-server has been moved back in as well. The staff are working with Office 365 and slowly moving their files to the 365 environment. The transition to Office 365 was a very smooth one given that we had to get all the information off another provider. RGPN is also using Intune for virus protection, security and mobile management.