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Trent & Dove Housing virtually upgrades infrastructure

Moving to a virtualised environment means housing association can move forward with digital projects

Trent & Dove Housing's IT team has gone from “firefighting” to keep its IT systems together, to putting IT at the forefront of the organisation by moving to a virtualised environment.

The housing association is working on rolling out a self-service portal for customers and bringing its outsourced repairs business in-house, projects which a few years ago seemed unreachable, its head of IT Derek Eaton tells Computer Weekly.

In two years, Trent & Dove Housing has gone from using tapes to back up systems in the event of disaster recovery – a process which could take days – to being able to do so automatically, and in minutes.

“Our storage was all over the place. We had a room full of servers, storage on different devices and 14 tapes with backup [data] on,” Eaton says.

“IT in the business had no agility, we couldn’t do anything and we were simply firefighting, holding it all together.”

Tired of simply trying to keep the lights on, Eaton wanted to do something about its poor IT infrastructure and show that despite being a small team, with the right kit and the right suppliers behind them, they could do a lot better.

Virtually free

In 2013 it partnered with EMC to deploy its Vspex system, and within six weeks of working with EMC, 20 servers had been deployed. Now, 95% of the business is virtualised, with the exception of its Check Point firewall – simply because Eaton says he prefers the firewalls to be boxes he can see – and its voice recorder system.

This includes all of the company’s email, archiving, main telephone system, virtual login, as well as its Orchard housing management system.

“The impact of EMC’s technology has been to dramatically improve business performance and free up employees’ time to focus on new innovations,” Eaton says.

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Trent & Dove Housing uses a Citrix desktop environment and now only has nine PCs in the whole building. It has also meant the housing association has been able to roll out mobile devices – mostly tablets and smartphones – to staff using Citrix’ NetScaler, which works with the Citrix environment, says Eaton.

“It’s fast, reliable and staff get access to what they need,” he adds.

With austerity having hit the housing industry hard, Eaton is glad Trent & Dove has already done the main bit of work to be able to get to grips with digital.

Using a virtualised environment has meant 20% power cost savings and built a solid foundation for the housing association to “put IT at the forefront”, says Eaton.

Self-service customer portal

Having confidence in its IT means the housing association has been able to take the digital agenda forward for its 130 employees, as well as its customers in its 5,700 properties.

Trent & Dove is working on rolling out a self-service portal as part of its Orchard housing management system where customers can manage their own account, track repairs to their properties, get rent statements electronically and keep track of their rent payments. The housing association plans to go live with the portal by the end of March 2016.

Taking up most of the IT team’s time at the moment is its repairs project, which involves bringing its outsourced repairs business in-house.

“[The transformation project] freed up employees' time to focus on bringing our outsourced repairs business in-house and has also supported our staff in using mobile devices when working on projects on the move,” says Eaton.

 The goal is that if a customer has booked a repair to their property, they will be notified by text message when the work will be carried out. The repairs vans will also be able to update their stock electronically on mobile devices.

Going forward, Eaton says Trent & Dove will be better prepared to deal with any challenges that should arise.

“We don’t need to make massive investments now. What we have is scalable and flexible and we can expand our storage easily should we need to,” he adds.

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