Easterseals is a nonprofit organization founded nearly 100 years ago to assist individuals with disabilities and their families. Today, Easterseals provides services for 1.5 Mn individuals and their families and advocates for the 56.7 Mn Americans with disabilities. The Easterseals Southern California (ESSC) affiliate offers child development services, adult and senior services, home and residential services, veteran and military family services, workforce development services, summer camp, and autism services with over 2500 employees and 65 locations. Like many organizations, changes to laws and regulations affect ESSC, including disability funding, labor, and healthcare information technology. Some of these changes spurred rapid growth for ESSC resulting in technological growing pains in the forms of systems stability, availability, responsiveness, security, and compliance.
- After the California Autism Insurance Mandate passed in 2012, entitling insured with autism to coverage for all medically necessary care, there became a high demand for autism services delivered at therapy centers and in client homes. This prompted intense hiring and training for remote staff with corresponding technology demands.
- The network was originally designed as a spoke and hub with all locations accessing the organization’s data center for authentication and applications. When issues occurred at the data center, the entire organization’s access to systems was disrupted.
- Over the past decades, ESSC had mostly met technology needs through internal software development and consumer-grade equipment. With the changing legal requirements and rapid growth, it became a challenge to maintain compliance with internal application development.
Key factors necessary for providing Information Technology to an organization transitioning from a small to a mid-size business are focusing on core competencies, standardizing technologies, implementing solutions that serve multiple business needs and require minimal maintenance, and selecting partners to assist in the design, identification, and implementation of solutions.
A second priority for all organizations is cybersecurity
Our first priority was assessing which existing applications met the future needs of the organization. In determining how to move forward, we considered the pain points experienced, the legal, technology, and cybersecurity environments, and the organization’s core competencies and objectives. One of the first evaluations was to determine if the internally developed applications could be updated and maintained fast enough to meet evolving requirements. Ultimately, application development was not a core competency and establishing a team with product management, developers, and quality assurance was not a strategic objective for ESSC.
The discussion then evolved to debating on-premise versus hosted applications. Many factors were considered, including: staffing, facilities, resources, and necessary upgrades to the existing data center infrastructure. By transitioning to a co-located data center, we could obtain more space or have remote staff, but when we came back to the fact that our core competency is delivering services for people with disabilities and their families, we decided to focus first on trying to find a cloud-based, hosted application that would meet our business needs. This would eliminate issues with practical considerations and allow us to focus on our core competencies.
We then prioritized which applications needed to be replaced first and roughly identified timelines based on business activities. We followed a structured system selection process and were able to find suitable systems for corporate performance management, human capital management, health information management. Each system was able to meet most of the business requirements identified and all of them had SQL databases to facilitate the future creation of consolidated enterprise reporting.
The initial hosted application we implemented was Microsoft Office 365. A catalyst for this move was unstable power at our local data center causing unreliable email access. We divided the organization into three groups for the migration: the pilot group being more technology receptive with IT and philanthropy, the second group with room resources, administration, and half of the organization, and the final group with everyone that remained. This completed over three sequential Friday evenings to mitigate business impact and minimize the duration in which some users were not on the same system as room resources.
Once the migration completed, IT provided additional education each month about a different available feature, especially Skype and OneDrive. Users were excited to be able to access documents and the suite of features from any device. The use of features was not mandated, but adoption was fueled by the successes experienced and shared by users throughout the organization.
A second priority for all organizations is cybersecurity. With the high volume hiring of remote staff for autism services, the cellular devices were categorized as the highest risk for loss. While there were multiple Enterprise Mobility Management solutions available, the previous culture of minimal controls necessitated change management with education about the risks and consequences to gain support for the implementation of a solution with controls.
While researching solutions, a few pain points were identified that could be resolved with the EMM implementation. ESSC had to manage over 1500 lines of cellular service across 25 unique groups to minimize overages with the current carrier. Each mobile device could be wiped and locked, but could still be factory reset for personal use.
Apple released a Device Enrollment Program to lock devices to ESSC effectively preventing factory reset for personal use at the same time we were selecting an EMM solution. During our evaluation of cellular carriers, we found T-Mobile offered no contracts, no overages, no BANs to manage, and a 65 percent savings over our previous carrier. We were thrilled to discover this carrier was collaborating with Apple for the Device Enrollment Program. With all of these benefits, there was enthusiastic support from the executive, leadership, and management teams to switch cellular carriers and implement the Enterprise Mobility Management solution immediately.
Phase two of this priority is updating all Microsoft operating systems devices to Windows 10, adding AirWatch, and implementing a Bring Your Own Device program. In the next phase, we are replacing old laptops with new, less expensive laptops that contain a minimal hard drive to facilitate users storing only minimal, actively needed data on their local, encrypted hard drive and to store almost all data in the cloud-based applications.
A third priority was ensuring there was a secure and stable infrastructure. With 65 physical locations, we had 65 unique networks and telephone systems that were difficult to maintain after their initial installation. This rendered us unable to maintain the networks, view activities and bandwidth, and to determine the readiness of the network for the increased traffic with new cloud applications. We needed a solution to provide single pane of glass network monitoring and management across all of our locations and found a number of viable options utilizing Software Defined–Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) technology with built-in security.
As this initiative continues, ESSC is in the process of relocating headquarters and selecting space in a top tier data center to co-locate our remaining on premise applications with redundant power, HVAC, and internet to ensure 99.9997 percent up time to minimize risk of business disruption. By the end of 2017, we will select and begin the implementation of a unified communication solution to connect all the offices and mobile staff.