December is meant to be a joyous month, with South African’s travelling across the country to enjoy the summer break with family and friends. It is also a monthly usually associated with horrific road accidents and a shortage of blood.
The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) is an association of voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors. Its goal is to provide patients with sufficient safe, high-quality blood products and medical services related to blood transfusion in an equitable, cost-effective manner. There are almost 2 000 employees in the organisation.
SANBS works in cities and rural locations across the country. Its 160 offices, clinics and blood banks are spread as far as Springbok in the Northern Cape, to Port Elizabeth and East London in the Eastern Cape, to the head offices in Durban and Johannesburg. In addition, there are almost 100 mobile blood collection units out on the road at any one time.
“In extreme cases the distributed nature of our offices meant that we would be flying across the country to address minor hardware issues with a PC,” says Amit Singh, IT Services team leader at SANBS. “We needed to find a solution that would take the pressure off the support team while improving the way we used our network to give us the most efficient result.”
Singh and his team looked into solutions to improve the sharing of information and software uptime across the organisation while reducing the drain on support services. SANBS tested various solutions from several vendors, but browser-based solutions were found to use too much bandwidth to fulfill the needs of the organisation effectively.
“Any technology that was bandwidth-intensive meant we would have had to update our WAN at additional cost, and in some cases this just wasn’t workable when attempting to deliver applications to our branch offices,” Singh says. “We needed technology that would work over our existing WAN and hardware, while bringing us the benefits of allowing all our information to be centrally managed and stored.”
SANBS worked with Smart Axess Solutions, a Gold Citrix Solution Advisor, to design, implement and support a solution that would fit its needs. Citrix Presentation Server offered secure application delivery to remote sites without being bandwidth-hungry, and simplified support across the entire network, according to Singh.
“With Citrix we are able to deliver applications across our network of offices using just 8kbps to 12kbps per session, and all our data is centrally managed and backed up, without the need for local users to back up all their data themselves,” he says. “We were able to simplify the entire process, while giving users a consistently high level of remote support and access to all the same information – than they had before the switchover – and in some cases far more.”
By centrally delivering applications as varied as its SAP financials and the MEDITECH blood management system with Presentation Server, SANBS has been able to reduce the extent and cost of on-site support while improving the efficiency of the organisation. Using Presentation Server, the team also extended the use of MEDITECH across the entire national network of clinics, creating a more robust and interconnected operational structure.
About 600 employees use Citrix Presentation Server, and up to 400 connect at any one time. Thanks to the fact that all data and applications are stored, administered and delivered centrally, SANBS has been able to expand and adapt to new challenges and requirements. Users are able to access their own information without the worry of a hardware issue causing data loss, while the extension of MEDITECH means everyone is working from the same information.
As a result, SANBS’ funding can be spent on lifesaving work, and not on troubleshooting IT issues, according to Singh.
“Thanks to the reduction in complexity of the infrastructure and the ability to deliver and remotely support applications using Citrix Presentation Server, we have seen not only a drop in support calls to the helpdesk of more than 30 percent but also the creation of a far more flexible organisation,” he says. “The administration of the network is much easier, and we’ve observed a reduction in the bandwidth required to continue running at optimum efficiency.”