Brightwater puts opportunities on the menu

At a time when most companies are putting off projects, the Brightwater Group is implementing changes to cut costs and open up new commercial opportunities.

When information systems and technology manager John MacKay joined the not-for-profit organisation in 1998, staff members were struggling with a technology infrastructure that impeded their ability to share information.

Brightwater, an organisation that cares for the aged and infirm, operates 19 remote centres and employs more than 1100 staff throughout Western Australia. In 1998, the group had a number of sites running stand-alone PCs with a minimal network dial-up modem.

The set up, in which documents and templates were stored on file servers and local machines, made complete version control impossible. Different versions of applications further complicated the situation with, for example, four or five versions of Microsoft Office in use throughout the organisation. It was fairly common for users to be unable to open documents e-mailed to them, according to MacKay.

However, as a government-funded organisation, strict regulations require Brightwater to maintain extremely high standards in administrative areas such as reporting and complete version control of all documents. But Brightwater's infrastructure made it difficult for users to maintain that standard. A lack of a real network infrastructure between the sites meant corporate applications, such as Oracle Financials, crucial to the management and administration of the various operations could not be deployed to all users. The only connection between sites was via dial-up modem, which was prone to drop outs. Also, there was no centralised file storage area for users to access.

MacKay has since left the organisation, but his successor, Bill Shand, information systems and technology manager for Brightwater, painted an accurate picture: "It was primitive with no file sharing, no standard and only a few PCs talking to each other in a very basic way."

Brightwater found it difficult to pull financial and administration information together.

"We had a mainframe system doing some of the applications. The core financials were running on an NT version of Oracle, which was not rolled out to the sites, mainly because there was no method of accessing the data. This was an Oracle custom-made application that Brightwater has been using for five years now. Using dial-up would not have been a lot of joy for users," Shand said.

Brightwater also runs under a tight budget. The not-for-profit organisation receives most of its revenue from government, with some additional revenue coming from commercial services, fee-paying residents, fundraising and donations.

"We're incredibly tight on budget at the moment. Brightwater is an organisation that is rolling along OK, but not on easy street. We have come from an organisation that was doing things on a small basis, but then grew to large organisation in a short period of time. As a result, there are a lot of information problems. We are trying to come to grips with the funding and how much it costs to have a resident in place, rather than how much you get for the resident," Shand said.

Under these conditions, MacKay set out to create a network infrastructure that would allow centralised access.

Having come from a company where Citrix MetaFrame was used, MacKay turned to Bekkers IT, a member of the Citrix Solutions Network, to implement a server-based computing environment, which involved three Citrix MetaFrame servers. After the MetaFrame servers were brought on site, MacKay introduced a standard operating environment with all applications hosted through a MetaFrame server and files stored centrally on a file server. With the new server-based computing environment MacKay implemented a best-practice, government regulated version control system in a matter of days.

The cost-saving benefits from the implementation are still being seen three years later.

"For three successive years we've reduced the IT expenditure year-on-year. Take client machines for example. Instead of buying a new PC for around $2500, we're purchasing Compaq T1010 thin clients at $800, an immediate saving of $1700," MacKay said.

The company is saving more than $100,000 a year in support costs and about $10,000 for training, with the addition of MetaFrame and its Session Shadowing feature. One of the first cost savings that came about was a dramatic reduction in support overheads.

"First of all, with all the applications served across the network by MetaFrame, there's no need for on-site software installation," MacKay said. "And when it comes to training users on a new application we simply use Session Shadowing. Before MetaFrame, we had to outsource our IT support and training, which is now so straightforward we do it in-house. That alone is a large contributor to the support cost savings."

While most of the savings from MacKay's initiatives have been in support and communications infrastructure for the remote sites, Shand has taken the torch from MacKay with plans to not only further enhance administration's computing environment, but to increase commercial opportunities with a new catering application for the catering services of Brightwater.

"We want to expand some commercial activities because there is not enough money from Government. So we need to make sure we have got decent IT in place. We can't afford to rely on government funding," Shand said.

"Brightwater Catering Services not only provides catering to all our residents, but also has a commercial service with a large international air carrier as a customer."

At the moment, the group uses a time-consuming, paper-based process, involving scanning menus, manually entering new information on the sites, and finally either faxing or e-mailing to catering division, who then have to scan that in.

"Catering wanted a [Microsoft] Access database. We've talked them into a SQL database with an Access front-end," Shand said.

Shand will install a new catering application that has been built by a local supplier called Menu Options.

"It is being used by one of hospitals, the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, here at the moment, so we are just picking up the functionality and technology of that and building on it to suit us."

The new catering system will cost around $30,000 to roll out. According to Shand, that represents the expenditure the catering manager had previously expected to outlay annually on paper alone, so it should more than pay for itself in its first year.

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