New approach benefits AHC’s bottom line

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05-May-2012

New approach benefits AHC’s bottom line

THE need to manage costs while providing quality healthcare services to thousands of people has prompted one organisation to move its entire IT infrastructure to a cloud platform.

Australian Home Care Services, which provides healthcare support across the country, has relinquished ownership of all technology assets and now rents capacity as required from a cloud service partner.

The result, according to AHC, is a saving in IT costs of more than $1 million a year, and a more flexible and responsive IT infrastructure that can better support the day-to-day operations.

AHC chief information officer Anthony Roberts says his organisation recognised its existing infrastructure could no longer provide the required support back in 2009.

Rapid growth through acquisition and plans to roll out a series of new services meant a fresh approach had to be found to ensure business demands could be met. “We owned all of our own IT infrastructure and it was housed in an off-site data centre,” says Roberts. “This came with a range of disadvantages as it represented a high capital cost and could not scale easily.”
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In mid-2009, the organisation’s IT team sat down to map out a new architecture that would overcome these shortcomings. They quickly realised that moving to a cloud-based platform was the most logical way forward.

“We had two options when we did a technology refresh,” says Roberts.

“When we did the modelling, us owning our own hardware would have been around $1m dearer, rather than moving it to a hosted cloud platform.”

The next step was to select a cloud operator and, because of the not-for-profit status of the organisation, this became important.

“Because we are a not-for-profit organisation, the traditional model of cloud was simply not available at our price point,” says Roberts.

“We could not afford, for example, to have two data centres with similar capacity.”

After an exhaustive review of various operators, AHC signed an agreement with technology management company Harbour IT.

Between November last year and February this year, AHC’s core systems were moved from the existing data centre on to Harbour IT’s private managed cloud platform.

Using VMware technology, applications were hosted on shared servers and provided as a service.

Roberts says some commoditised services, such as Microsoft Exchange and file-and-print, are purchased from Harbour IT on a software-as-a-service basis. However, core applications, such as an ERP and a client management system, are run directly on the private cloud.

AHC now has no IT assets on its books. Everything is either leased, as in the case of desktops, or provided as a service by Harbour IT.

And the benefits of the infrastructure move quickly became apparent. As well as significant cost reductions, the IT team was able to respond to business requirements far more quickly.

Late last year, AHC completed the acquisition of Nationwide Health and Aged Care Services. Roberts says from a technology perspective this move was achieved at a much lower cost than if the traditional IT infrastructure had still been in place.

The organisation is also able to bring new services to market much more quickly. Roberts points to a new acute-care offering, dubbed Healthcare at Home, which is being put in place.

“We are starting that on July 1 and have been able to build all the backend services we need in about a week and a half,” he says.

“Traditionally, that would have taken months to complete.”

Other benefits of the new cloud platform include reduced business risk in the area of business continuity. Rather than relying on a single data centre managed by in-house staff, the organisation now has a reliable and elastic platform managed and operated on its behalf. Extra resources can be dialled up as required, changing the way IT is viewed.

“It has transformed how AHC uses technology from a ‘production’ model to an ‘IT as a service’ model,” says Roberts. “We no longer have a balance sheet full of quickly depreciating IT assets.”

AHC is owned by Multiple Sclerosis Ltd, which represents the Multiple Sclerosis societies of Victoria, NSW and the ACT.

Roberts says the reduction in IT costs associated with the move to the cloud platform has improved the dividends that AHC is able to pay to MSL to fund research into the causes of the disease.

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