Action for Children (AfC) was founded in London in 1869, when Thomas Bowman Stephenson first gave a home to children living under the arches of Waterloo Station. Today, the charity provides services, including fostering, adoption, residential homes, children’s centres and education, to more than 300,000 children, families and young people. AfC staff work with vulnerable children in their homes, in prison and out on the streets. With 5,000 workers and more than 400 locations across the UK, the nonprofit remains true to Stephenson’s original credo: everything it does is 'in the service of the children'.
Alan Crawford, AfC's Chief Information Officer, joined the organisation in 2013. At that time, the charity's IT infrastructure consisted mainly of aging desktop PCs running the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. As Alan explains, "It was actually a reliable IT infrastructure, but it was just past its sell-by date. The XP PCs tied people to their desks. We also had a few old laptops that were really clunky, but the reality was that most of the staff were mobile; they were just using pen and paper".
Challenge: Improving effectiveness without compromising security
Alan saw that there were two typical patterns of work for AfC's field staff. Some only visited an office every couple of weeks to catch up on paperwork. Others went into their office first thing in the morning to collect their case files, spent the day visiting families and children and then came back to the office to return the files, which must be secured overnight because the information they contain is highly sensitive. Staff typically live close to the area that they support. In some regions, such as Northern Ireland, the office could be a 90-minute drive from that area. This meant a daily routine that involved a three-hour round trip at each end of the day, severely limiting the time available to spend with families and children.
When workers were with families, they typically took notes on paper to be typed up later, back in the office. The form required to become a foster parent is over 100 pages long. After writing down and transcribing the information, the case worker would return on another day to allow the family to review the form. Inevitably, with such a lengthy form, the family would make changes necessitating a third visit.
Increasingly, public services are most easily available online. However, many disadvantaged families do not have broadband access at home. Alan was keen to provide Wi-Fi access within AfC's children's centres to allow families and young people to access online support and services, and enable charity staff and visiting professionals from other agencies to get online. He explains, "It was getting to the point where, if there was no Wi-Fi available for visiting professionals like health workers, they would be reluctant to come to the centre at all."
Overall, Alan felt that AfC's outdated IT system was holding back the organisation. As a result, "We needed to digitally enable Action for Children based on the idea that technology can play an innovative role in the service of children, either through our staff or directly."
Solution: Delivering applications and information securely and reliably to any device
Alan described the challenge to Platinum Citrix Solution Advisor CDW, adding, "We didn't want a lot of Lego bricks that we had to plug together." "CDW has a really strong team of solution architects," he says. "They designed a solution that was cost-effective and met our needs in ways that we couldn’t have done if we'd tried to specify the technology ourselves." CDW designed a mobile workspace built on XenDesktop, XenMobile and NetScaler technology. Together, they comprise Citrix Workspace Suite, a comprehensive and secure solution that integrates app and desktop virtualisation, mobile app and device management, enterprise file sharing, WAN optimisation and secure access to enable people to choose when, where and how work gets done. CDW also proposed ShareFile to enable AfC to securely share files with partner organisations.
"Citrix had the most complete, integrated mobility solution" explains Alan.
Three thousand thin-client terminals have been installed in AfC's offices and children's centres. Mobile workers can use one of 2,000 AfC-supplied Dell tablet devices or personal devices to access the Citrix shared hosted desktop. The charity has also installed Wi-Fi networks in 340 sites, so far, allowing mobile workers and visiting professionals to access the internet. AfC workers can use the centres' Wi-FI to access their AfC desktops. Citrix virtualisation ensures that confidential information remains in the data centre, not on individual devices. NetScaler Gateway provides secure remote connectivity, while ShareFile ensures that case files are shared and stored securely on AfC's servers.
- Increases face time with vulnerable children and families
Because they can access sensitive case files securely from any device, AfC staff no longer need to travel to and from the office at each end of the day. Equipped with Dell tablets, they can now enter case notes or complete forms while sitting with families. Greater efficiency not only increases the quality time that staff can spend with families and children, it means the parents themselves have more time to support their children. As Alan observes, "If you can complete a form and have it signed in a single visit, rather than three, the parents really appreciate it. And, the more efficient we can make admin tasks and cut down on travel time, the more time staff can spend face to face with the children and families."
- Improves secure collaboration with partner agencies
"Security is hyper-important for us because of the type of information we deal with," explains Alan. "We're hugely confident in the security levels of the Citrix solution. All of the partners we work with – government departments, local authorities and public authority bodies – say 'Yes, it's on Citrix, it's secure. We're happy to work with that'."
With Wi-Fi installed in AfC children's centres, visiting professionals can get online and access their own systems. When AfC staff visit other locations, such as prisons or the offices of partner organisations, they can access information securely using their mobile devices. Information can be shared securely with other organisations using ShareFile.
Collaboration is also supported in situations where partner organisations have specific device requirements. If an agency uses an app that runs only on Android or iOS devices, AfC staff can use those devices and still have secure access to their AfC desktop using Citrix Receiver client software, which supports virtually any mobile device operating system.
- Improves support for children
The "interests of the children" have been promoted in some unexpected ways. Now that field staff have Internet access via their tablets, and children's centres are Wi-Fi enabled, AfC professionals have greater access to online resources with which to address specific needs, such as helping autistic children.
Another unexpected benefit was driven by staff requests to have webcams enabled on smartphones and tablets. Previously, photography was discouraged on child safety grounds. However, as Alan explains, "There's now recognition in our charity that using photos and videos is a great way to tell a child's story and to keep a child's record. It really brings the story to life."
"Citrix and CDW provided an integrated solution that covered our mobility needs, our security requirements and our need to share information with partners," says Alan. "We could have simply replaced the XP PCs with Windows 7 PCs. The investment would have been about the same, but we chose to do something different. Based on our understanding of how staff really work with the children and families they support, we implemented a solution that is quite innovative. The staff who are using the Citrix solution tell me it's brilliant, it's transformational."
"Security is hyper-important for us because of the type of information we deal with. We're hugely confident in the security levels of the Citrix solution." - Alan Crawford CIO, Action for Children