Smart projects:VPN boosts care for disabled

Charity Leonard Cheshire is using a virtual private network to improve its services, writes Karl Cushing.

Charity Leonard Cheshire is using a virtual private network to improve its services, writes Karl Cushing.

UK charity Leonard Cheshire, which provides care and support services for disabled people, has implemented a managed virtual private network (VPN) as part of its drive to improve services to its users through IT.

The IPsec VPN from Via Net.works provides secure links between Leonard Cheshire's central London office, its 10 regional centres and a national IT support centre in York. It also gives users access to the organisation's intranet and central applications, including the e-mail system, which is based on Microsoft Exchange.

The aim is to link all of the charity's 150 sites in the UK by the end of the year using either ADSL or dial-up telephone lines. The charity also wants to get its home workers hooked up to its intranet using client IPsec VPN software.

Bryan Grieve, Leonard Cheshire's head of IT, says a key driver for the implementation is the charity's aim to offer access to a central domiciliary care system that will manage the rostering and rotoring of the organisation's 2,500 care staff. Currently the charity uses about 30 separate systems for this task.

Domiciliary care is a core function for the charity. It bids for this work, which is outsourced by local authorities, in competition with other organisations.
"Especially in domiciliary care, we are an interesting example of a charity and a business," says Grieve.

The VPN will also provide access to the central human resources system, which holds information on the charity's 7,000 permanent staff, and the fundraising database. Grieve believes this should help it to run its campaigns more effectively.

"It is the biggest project we have ever done," says Grieve, looking at the current IT drive as a whole. He says the charity is already getting "substantial benefits" from using IT, including improved productivity, better communications and tighter security. "Maintaining a high level of security is as important to us as any other commercial organisation," Grieve explains.

Via has also supplied firewalls for Leonard Cheshire's 10 local headquarters and its central office and is providing a managed service to help the charity maintain the network.

Grieve says that 18 months ago Leonard Cheshire's IT infrastructure was "very weak" but since then there has been a big change in its attitude towards the use of technology.

Although he says the VPN project is just a minor part of this new direction, Grieve believes it is a good example of how IT can be used to boost efficiency and cut costs, being a lot more affordable than putting in leased lines or ISDN in all the organisation's sites.

"It is infrastructure we did not have before," says Grieve. "It will help us with our main rationale - to make the user base more productive and to pass on the benefits to our main users, the disabled."

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