Centralized data center improves flexibility and efficiency at Familiehulp

With over 12,000 employees, Familiehulp is the largest provider of home care in Flanders and Brussels, and it has put all its various data centers and servers in a single, centralized, externally hosted environment. The organization called on ICT services provider Realdolmen to migrate all the applications, ranging from email to custom ERP software, to the new infrastructure. At the same time, Familiehulp switched to a pay-per-use model in which their IT costs vary depending upon actual use. This also provides extra flexibility: the ICT infrastructure can be adapted at any time to changes in the organization. The Familiehulp project also fits nicely into HP's CloudAgile program; Realdolmen was the first partner to start working with this program in Belgium.

"Companies often limit themselves to simply outsourcing data storage in the cloud. That's not the direction we wanted to take," says Griselda Symons, ICT director at Familiehulp. "Our aim was to outsource every component of our environment. It's rather unique to place the entire environment as-a-service in a data center That requires very close collaboration and in-depth expertise from the ICT partner."


"Flexibility is critical for our organization," explains Symons. "Roughly 850 of our employees presently have access to the system, but that number can vary greatly due to a number of social transformations. In the first place, we are witnessing an increasing demand for care due to the aging population, and in addition, patients are being discharged sooner from hospitals following an operation or treatment. In both cases, the consequence is that increasing numbers of people need home care services. Our ICT infrastructure must be able to respond adequately, proactively, and sustainably to such fundamental changes within the organization or the market."

"This flexibility is also reflected in the number of updates that we implement each month," adds Symons. "Whereas we used to implement modifications once every three months, that now happens much more frequently. The end result is that we can respond much more quickly to changes without increasing the workload on our own ICT team. In our sector, we are in the process of evolving into a provider of continuous service, but it was impossible to realize that with our own IT team. Now we already have a system in place to provide 24/7 service easily and sustainably.

Another important factor is the increasing demand on the part of government to exchange information via digital platforms, as is the case with e-health and the electronic patient record. "Of course, that also puts extra pressure on the ICT staff" remarks Symons. "After all, they have to provide a system that is easily accessible but at the same time is also sufficiently secure to ensure that the confidentiality of customer data is never threatened."


Realdolmen is capable of guaranteeing that type of continuously available and secure IT infrastructure. The new centralized infrastructure is located in the data center of the Realdolmen Cloud. In case of a disaster, all systems can immediately be switched to a backup facility located at a distance of 25 km. "This disaster recovery option is very important for us," explains Symons. "There are various customers in our sector who demand a guarantee that their care services can continue to function. Within four hours, we can set up a new and fully operational system without any big impact on the cost."


Realdolmen takes care of completely managing the servers, the storage systems, the application platform and security, including hardware and software. Familiehulp pays a monthly fee for this service, which is completely based on a pay-per-use concept. In other words, the fee to be paid is determined by the actual monthly use. This makes IT costs much more predictable, and in addition no major initial investment is needed in hardware and software.


"Thanks to the pay-per-use concept, we can keep a lid on the ICT costs," says Symons. "The care sector is not a purely commercial sector, which means that costs are a very important factor. To a certain extent we also suffer from the scale factor: the size of our organization has an impact on our ICT classification. The need for a professional infrastructure in combination with the price makes the pay-per-use model very suitable for Familiehulp. At present we are working with a predetermined margin. If this margin exceeds a certain limit, our fee is adjusted in consultation with the partner and in a fully transparent fashion. I receive monthly service reports, so that I can see exactly what is happening and where we need to make adjustments."


The biggest benefits for the users of the new system are its stability and performance, but the cloud model also enables the IT manager to sleep a bit more soundly. Griselda Symons: "Realdolmen's service model means we have that much less to worry about, even though we still remain closely involved in the expansion of our ICT infrastructure. We are ultimately responsible for the security policy, so we still want to have control over it."

"We have already been working for almost a year in our hosted environment, and we have not yet come across anything that made us think we should have done things differently," says Symons. "Contractually speaking, everything was worked out down to the smallest detail. We also have the option of having a professional audit carried out by a third party each year. Before starting to work with the new system, for example, we tested the disaster recovery system, and the results of that test were positive. That certainly gave us a good feeling."


At the end of 2012, Familiehulp issued a public call for tenders. In view of the size of the organization, management very quickly started considering a centralization of the infrastructure. "Our company employs 12,000 people and serves 50,000 customers each month. That makes it difficult for us to manage everything ourselves. We quickly noticed that the proposals for a shared cloud environment provided much more flexibility and lower costs than our existing ICT policy. That gave us food for thought, and in short order we switched from using our own system to a service-oriented system," explains Symons.

At the end of June 2013, the project was awarded to our partner Realdolmen, after which they implemented the full centralization within a period of five months. The entire Microsoft portion was updated, and all applications were migrated to the central system. Symons: "We decided to go with Realdolmen because we felt that they had a good understanding of our business and could respond quickly and effectively to our needs. Realdolmen is also one of our long-term partners, and our collaboration has always gone very smoothly. Their ability to respond quickly and flexibly to the needs of Familiehulp has always been very high."


After a successful consolidation and migration project, the switch to a cloud concept is now a fact. Now that this phase has been completed, Familiehulp plans to use the new infrastructure as a basis for new automation projects.

"Our targeted group of employees consists of roughly a thousand IT users. These include administrative employees, social workers, management, and so on. The other 11,000 employees are care workers such as those who visit the customer at home and are engaged only in care activities. In the long term, the aim is to ensure that these employees also learn to use IT on a systematic basis. Potential uses to be considered would then include performance follow-up, adjusting and monitoring schedules, exchanging information, etc. Communications, which now works primarily via telephone and paper, is something we aim to fully automate," concludes Symons.


“Via the HP CloudAgile Program, Realdolmen aims to transform its business model into a future-proof platform that helps companies accelerate their migration to the cloud.

With the pay-as-you-use model, customers can evolve from a CAPEX to an OPEX financial model for their IT requirements, while at the same time eliminating the need for large initial investments. With this model, customers can ensure that their costs are in line with their use of the infrastructure and that the IT systems remain future-proof.

HP CloudSystem provides Realdolmen with a pay-as-you-use, future-proof platform that accelerates the delivery of new services and cuts down the time required to generate revenue. Not only are the total business costs reduced, but by eliminating the manual configuration steps, uptime is increased and replication and disaster recovery are built into the system.

As a member of the HP CloudAgile Program, Realdolmen can contact the HP sales team in Belgium directly for assistance and expand its market base accordingly. With built-in incentives such as go-to-market support, financing incentives and training, the program enables companies to expand their services, accelerate turnaround time, and focus on new customers.

Centralized data center improves flexibility and efficiency at Familiehulp

Centralized data center improves flexibility and efficiency at Familiehulp

(Dutch version)

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