Founded in 1965, Places for People is one of the largest property management, development and regeneration companies in the UK. A not-for-dividend organisation, the company balances social and commercial objectives with a focus on sustainability. In 2013, Places for People was awarded Platinum status for its corporate responsibility activity by BITC (Business in the Community). With over 5.000 employees and assets of more than £3 billion, the company owns or manages 143.000 properties across the UK.
Several years of acquisitions and rapid organic growth had left Places for People with an aging, complex IT infrastructure that was expensive to manage and maintain. The IT team supported 1.500 desktop PCs used by four distinct workforces in 35 offices. The company also had 200 smaller “scheme” sites to manage. Each workforce (housing management, skilled labour, care work and head office) had different needs, but everyone had to visit an office in order to access or update information. Each visit increased cost and reduced productivity. When the business decided to rationalise its sites (from 35 to 21 offices), Head of IM&T Jon Thomson saw an opportunity to review the company’s IT.
“It was imperative that we had an IT system that would support our mobile workforce,” explains Thomson. “With a quarter of a million customers and 143.000 properties, they don’t have the time, nor should they need, to travel to use technology.” Information used by Places for People’s employees is confidential and frequently personal. Any solution would need to comply with the industry’s stringent data security requirements.
Thomson and his team recognised that a cloud-based, virtual desktop environment would best meet the business, operational and employee needs of the company.
“We worked with our IT partner Open Reality to establish the best virtual environment for us and that was a solution based on Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp,” continues Thomson. Following a successful proof of concept, Open Reality delivered a full implementation that included Citrix Receiver, enabling Places for People to launch a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy.
A single, secure virtual desktop – tailored to the specific needs of each workforce – is managed centrally significantly reducing management and administration time whilst enhancing data security. The IT team can now quickly and flexibly provision additional desktops and virtual applications across the company’s sites.
The Citrix solution also improves Places for People’s disaster recovery capability. In the event of any outage, the IT team can quickly redirect virtual machines to a back-up server ensuring near seamless recovery.
Replacing the aging PC estate with thin client devices resulted in an initial capital saving of £550.000. As a result of this change, Thomson was able to reduce annual support costs by £55.000. Energy costs have been reduced by £120.000 per year.
Field staff can now log issues as they work, using smartphones or tablet devices. Removing the need to visit a physical office has not only made staff more productive but has also increased the speed with which responses can be made. Logging issues and checking information in the customer or tenant’s presence has further improved customer satisfaction.
“Feedback from the field has made it clear that technology is now aiding, and not hindering, day-to-day functionality. In the two years since introducing the virtual IT infrastructure, customer satisfaction levels have never been higher,” explains Thomson.
Sustainability is an important objective of Places for People and the company is proud of the recognition it has received for corporate responsibility. The company’s cloud solution supports this objective, reducing carbon output by nearly 400 tonnes per year.
Places for People is continuing to roll out the benefits of BYOD to its employees. Thomson is also using the savings from the project to reinvest in the business: “The time and money saved can now be ploughed back into the development of the services we deliver and the quality of service that supports these. The Citrix platform has been well received by the organisation and the entire project has been an outstanding success.”
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