Chief Executive of Workways Australia
Workways Australia is one of the highest performing Employment Services providers in Australia, delivering a diverse range of government funded services including Jobactive, Disability Employment Services, Transition to Work, Green Army and Work for the Dole.
From one community-based organisation in regional Victoria in 1989, Workways Australia has grown into a dynamic not-for-profit organisation with 52 offices located in cities, regional and remote areas. In 2015 and 2016, a set of mergers contributed greatly to this growth, but also brought significant IT challenges.
The typical merger involves two organisations. For Workways, it encompassed four – resulting in a mishmash of various networks and systems, many of them aging, along with four separate IT teams.
“When we initially merged together the four organisations, we had significant concerns about the age of our equipment, our ability to effectively link the four separate IT systems into one integrated system, and the amount of money that we would be required to invest to bring the business into line with industry and general business standards,” said Workways’ chief strategy and development officer, Samantha Hill.
The aim of the mergers was to create a larger, more commercially viable organisation that would provide the scale needed to remain competitive in the changing market, and enable Workways to continue to deliver its employment services to more than 16,000 job seekers across the country.
However, the merged entity was left with multiple network domains and several IT staff in different locations with different ideas of how technology should be managed, along with disparate and often unstable systems.
Workways needed help in integrating and modernising their networks and systems, so it engaged IT service provider Combo not only to head up the huge project, but also to replace the existing IT teams, leading to immediate cost savings and an increase of IT capability and capacity.
Combo’s first job was to uncover what was in place, and then collaborate closely with Telstra to deploy new solutions.
“Our Discovery process revealed 22 physical servers in five locations, with other makeshift servers in remote sites. Some servers were 10 years old,” Combo Founder David Markus says, adding “PCs were unbranded with a mix of operating systems from Windows XP to Windows 8. Outages across the network were a daily occurrence. Only a third of critical data was being backed up reliably.”
Two years later, many physical servers have been virtualised using VMWare onto Telstra’s CSX cloud platform, with the operating system upgraded to Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 and an RDP environment created. The redundant servers have been decommissioned, reducing network complexity. Office 365 has been deployed to all staff and Combo implemented Telstra’s Veritas email archiving solution to satisfy Workways’ compliance need to retain all documents for seven years.
As a result of the server consolidation and other network upgrades, Combo was able to create a single public internet point of entry via a Palo Alto firewall.
“This has allowed Workways to replace its aging fleet of PCs with HP terminals. These terminals provide HP device manager to allow automation of thin client configuration and updates across the 300 terminals deployed. The time and cost savings of this automation over the life of the devices is significantly more than the cost of the devices.” The devices are also low power consumers and ‘clever write’ security protected.
The upgrade has ensured that Workways can attain certification for the ASD’s InfoSec Registered Assessors Program (IRAP), which has been introduced by government as a requirement of future funded contracts.
Commenting on the upgrade, Hill said: “Combo took the time to analyse and learn about our business, assisting us to develop a single, integrated, consistent, high-performing IT platform that will allow us to navigate the changing nature of our industry, ensure that we meet the current and future IT and IRAP accreditation requirements to remain competitive for future contracts, and to introduce innovative service practices.”
It’s also helped Workways double its revenue and achieve a 30 percent increase in the number of job seekers who have been placed in employment. Bryan McCormick, chief executive of Workways, said the benefits of the tech upgrade went beyond the IT team.
“Workways operates under a star rating system where employment service providers in Australia have their service delivery assessed by the federal government each quarter. Since engaging Combo to integrate our IT systems we have achieved an increase in our star rating each and every quarter.
When we commenced this process our star rating was equal to the national average. Of the more than 100 providers Workways is now ranked in the top ten nationally, an incredible improvement. The flow-on effect of this improved performance has been a lift in revenue, profitability and new business,” McCormick said.
Breast Cancer Network Australia
Head of Corporate Services, BCNA
Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) works to ensure that Australians affected by breast cancer receive the very best support, information, treatment and care appropriate to their individual needs. BCNA is the peak national organisation for Australians affected by breast cancer, and consists of a network of more than 100,000 members and 300 Member Groups.
Combo provides Managed IT services, called ValueCare, for BCNA. This includes strategic advice on technology infrastructure, data security and backup, and an offsite IT department since 2011.
Early one morning in May 2015, BCNA’s ground floor office was flooded with sewerage caused by a blockage in the main line in front of the building. The damage reached up to 300mm from the floor, and the whole ground floor had to be evacuated.
BCNA’s important work was called to a halt as the entire team had to be sent home, and arrangements made for staff to begin working from home and from temporary desks on another floor, provided by long-time supporter Bakers Delight.
BCNA depends on information stored on the server. Their 40+ staff needed to have offsite access to emails, printing and their files on the BCNA server, which was in a perilous position in the flooded office.
Disaster Recovery! After the initial call from BCNA on the morning of the flood, Combo were on site assessing the damage and future risk, and quickly created a work-around that let BCNA staff print and access files from temporary desks. They ensured the Combo helpdesk was able to cope with the increased calls from BCNA staff needing help to log in and access files remotely, and consulted with BCNA management to ensure rapid action was taken to mitigate further risk and ensure business was disrupted as little as possible.
This included moving the server offsite to a data centre, and bringing forward the planned replacement of the threatened server.
As part of their ValueCare service, Combo maintained an up-to-date IT Roadmap for BCNA to provide a framework for looking at IT resources and requirements over 1-5 years. This roadmap included disaster recovery strategies, and a schedule for equipment replacement.
“Combo’s reaction was instant, professional, and organisation-saving: the important work of BCNA was able to carry on with minimal disruption despite the upheaval caused by the flood.” Allison Southwell, BCNA.
Combo Managing Director Rachel Markus attributes the great outcome of this awful event to the fantastic relationship between Combo and BCNA and to thorough and thoughtful collaborative planning.
“BCNA were able to mitigate their risks because they are great collaborators who understood the equation between IT investment and outcomes: we were able to make excellent decisions, quickly, because we had already put in the work to assess BCNA’s current and future IT capacities and needs.” Rachel Markus, Combo
HR & Facilities Manager, Acrux
Australian Stock Exchange listed Acrux (ASX: ACR) develops and commercialises pharmaceutical products for global markets, using innovative technology to administer proven medicines transdermally (though the skin). Acrux has proven technology and a successful history in partnering with global pharmaceutical companies to commercialise its products. Acrux has three pharmaceutical products approved and marketed and is investing in research to develop future products for unmet patient needs.
Acrux has been acknowledged for its success to date, receiving two 2010 Governor of Victoria Export Awards, including the Victorian Export Award for Innovation Excellence. In March 2010, Acrux signed the largest single product Iicensing deal in the history of Australian biotechnology for Axiron®, a treatment for hypogonadism (testosterone deficiency in men).
With no on-site IT staff and a high-tech environment, Acrux needed a whole-of-business solution to solve their immediate problems with best-of-breed products and services. They needed immediate on-call support, but also wanted develop a strategy that would support their needs into the future.
“Back in 2010 our IT environment was aged and no longer fit for purpose.” Says HR & Facilities Manager, Sharon Consiglio. “Being an organisation of scientists, we had some stringent criteria for an IT service provider. Combo was rated against a number of other companies in terms of price, location, years in operation, and services offered.”
As well as IT strategy and consulting, Acrux’s unique business meant they needed a specific set of services tailored to their business, including onsite or remote support with 24 hour access, and support for travelling staff.
“We needed a company that were experts in their field, so that we could get on with being experts in ours. We wanted a provider big enough that they could guide us through the strategy and implementation process as well as provide day to day support, and small enough that we could pick up the phone and talk to a local.”
“It is Combo’s wholistic approach to IT that stands out the most. They took the time to listen to what we needed, not just focusing on what they wanted to sell us or what they had done before. They helped us align our IT strategy with our business goals, and had the expertise to be able to find the best solutions for our unique business.”
Sharon notes that Acrux have benefited significantly from the depth of experience provided by having a whole team of IT specialists at their service: “Combo has guided us through systems upgrades, moved us to the cloud, and answered our many (and sometimes repetitive!) questions with unreserved patience.”
A smooth onboarding process for new systems was vital to ensure research and development was not interrupted, and here Sharon points to Combo’s great response times and customer service as the key ingredients to success.
“Combo’s level of service has been fantastic, and I can happily recommend them to other businesses. We have been impressed by their varied expertise, their guidance, and their efficient support.”
The National Associated Retail Traders of Australia
Chief Operations Officer, NARTA
The National Associated Retail Traders of Australia (NARTA) was established in 1965 and is the largest independent electrical goods buying group in Australasia.
With 29 members across Australia and 7 in New Zealand, and the combined buying power of more than AU$4 Billion, NARTA represents a group of strong generalist retailers and category dominant specialists delivering a wide range of products and services.
As an organization servicing such a diverse group of member companies, NARTA is concerned with delivering transparency, efficiency and cost-effective results and needed its infrastructure and processes to be aligned to deliver in these areas.
Strong growth and expansion are the goals of almost every business or organisation, but rapid growth can also cause headaches when it comes to IT infrastructure, according to NARTA’s Chief Operations Officer, Michael Jackson.
“Essentially, we were growing faster than our existing systems allowed. We were early adopters of an intranet for our members to be able to see stock on hand, sell through data, and so on. We needed our IT to be able to keep up with our capacity in terms of growth, ordering, and forecasting, and it just wasn’t going to.”
NARTA needed to be able to report their business metrics to their members in real time and in simple, easy to understand visuals. “We wanted our members to have real time, visual access to our data and so we investigated iDashboards, which is where we met David and the Combo team and realised that they had the diagnostic expertise to look at our IT systems and take us to the next level.”
The team at Combo were able to implement the best data visualisation product on the market, iDashboards, and give NARTA a clear roadmap for the most economical ways to improve their IT infrastructure.
Michael is now confident that his IT systems will keep up with NARTA’s bright future: “Combo did a full audit of our IT systems and gave us a total solution to deal with our current growth and our needs for the future.”
“Based on their recommendations we moved to the cloud, updated our data warehousing capacity, upgraded our firewalls and security protocols, and improved our systems and processes to future-proof for growth. This has allowed us to implement the right software, which in turn makes us more transparent and efficient for our members.”
The depth of IT knowledge and experience across the Combo team has enabled NARTA to achieve its goals of improved efficiency and transparency, and to comprehensively address its IT capacities.
“Combo’s customer service is great, their helpdesk is efficient, and I can recommend them for their high level of expertise and professionalism.”
Common Equity Housing Ltd
Colleen Van Dyk
Information Technology Coordinator, CEHL
Common Equity Housing Limited (CEHL) is a not for profit company established for the purpose of providing housing, resources and support to volunteer rental housing co-operatives across Victoria.
CEHL is a registered housing association established in 1987 to provide a means for lower income earners to access rental properties that they manage and control on a co-operative and secure basis.
As an innovative and growing company, CEHL owns over 2200 properties across Victoria, with a current value in excess of $600 million.
The responsibilities of CEHL include:
/ Monitoring properties and planning for future development
/ Offering Co-Op members expert advice about property maintenance and tenancy management
/ Providing training and financial services, and
/ Overseeing the administration of the Co-Op Program
CEHL was and still is a rapidly growing organisation, and was struggling to keep up IT support for its existing staff, let alone plan for the future, according to CEHL’s Information Technology Coordinator Colleen Van Dyk.
“I was inundated with requests for IT support and unable to ever get ahead – always putting out fires, as they say. We had changing IT needs and we needed to be able to forward plan and implement best practice IT infrastructure for all the new departments, but I was snowed under just keeping up with daily support” says Colleen.
Colleen’s problems were typical of the many IT managers that receive expert help from Combo to free up their resources. “We either needed more IT staff, or a managed services model, and I am so glad we went with managed IT services and with Combo. Now I have a whole IT team available to me whenever I need them!”
“Combo was the clear choice to get CEHL’s IT on the right path. “Of all the service providers that applied for our account, only Combo came out and asked about CEHL’s core organisational needs, not just our IT needs. They have been incredibly supportive in making sure all our goals are being reached.”
Combo now deals with the whole organisation’s daily IT support, as well as regular proactive checkups that ensure CEHL’s IT systems run smoothly:
“We have a staff member who come to us monthly to sort out any issues and check hardware, and those visits are scheduled so I have time to prepare questions and issues to discuss.
We also meet every three months to discuss our IT needs in more detail, to identify areas of growth, discuss new products or trends in the industry, and generally make sure we are on track. IT can be an isolating department to work in, and having the Combo team means that they bring not only the depth and breadth of a whole team’s expertise, but also new ideas and successes from their work with other businesses and organisations.”
Colleen couldn’t be happier with Combo’s service, and CEHL now has a partner with the capacity to keep IT working well into the future:
“Combo’s staff are lovely friendly people, and I love being able to say ‘Call Combo’ when anyone calls me with a support issue, but the main benefit has been that appointing Combo has allowed CEHL to get on with its core business, knowing that IT is no longer a problem.”