Social housing and property management group Places for People has reduced its carbon footprint and transformed productivity and customer service levels with the implementation of a Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp virtual computing solution that enables office-based and mobile staff to record and access data via virtual desktops in real-time. Over the last year, the not-for-profit property management, development and regeneration company has saved over £731,000 in capital and support costs and reduced its carbon footprint by nearly 400 tonnes.
Places for People Saved over £730,000 Capital Costs and £101,000p.a. Recurring Costs Proving the Business Case for a Citrix Virtual Desktop Environment
Places for People Group is one of the largest property management, development and regeneration companies in the UK. The nationwide group is the umbrella organisation for 16 companies that together own or manage over 143,000 homes. It also builds
and manages socially and commercially driven shopping centres, leisure facilities and schools.
A large proportion of the Group’s business is the provision of social housing and maintenance and specialist care and support services to enable people to live independently in their own homes. The Places for People Group employees over 5,000 people and has assets worth more than £3 billion.
A mobile workforce
Since 2000, Places for People has grown rapidly through a combination of acquisition and organic growth. This expansion has created significant challenges for the IT department.
Originally, the IT team supported 1,500 desktop PCs in multiple locations across the country. Now, it supports more than 3,000 employees, who sit in four distinct mobile workforces – head office, housing management, skilled labour and care work – each of which has its own IT provision and support needs.
Before, when it had a 100% desktop-based IT infrastructure, staff had no option but to travel to a Places for People office each time they needed to access data or update information. This affected reduced productivity and efficiency, and increased the potential for delays in service and the loss of information.
For IT staff, the ageing PC infrastructure required a lot of time, resource and budget to monitor and manage to keep downtime to a minimum.
When the decision was made to rationalise from 35 to 21 office sites, Places for People seized the opportunity to review its IT infrastructure and look at technologies that could better support the way the business and its employees worked – or could work. There were also over 200 smaller ‘scheme’ sites to be factored into the build.
This was not a simple process. The new IT infrastructure had to comply with stringent industry regulations and ensure that everyone within Places for People – including mobile staff – could meet the number one business objective: the delivery of outstanding customer service.
With these criteria in mind, Jon Thomson, Head of IM&T at Places for People, decided that a virtual desktop environment would best meet the business’s needs.
“It was imperative that we had an IT system that would support our mobile workforce. With over a quarter of a million customers and nearly 143,000 properties to support around the country, they don’t have the time, nor, with the advent of virtual desktops, should they have the need to travel to use technology,” he said.
“We worked with our IT partner, Open Reality, to establish the best virtual environment for us and it was, and has long since proven to be, a solution based on Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp.”
The Citrix XenDesktop environment emulates Places for People’s desktop and applications, including MS Office (inc. Outlook), Masterpiece financial management, Northgate housing management and a document management solution. This ensures that all employees have a consistent IT experience, whether they are sitting at a desk in an office or accessing the system via a mobile access device whilst travelling around the country.
Thomson added: “Open Reality has provided us with the best tools to support a mobile workforce. As a direct result, we have seen customer service satisfaction levels increase significantly, while our operational costs and carbon footprint have been dramatically reduced, in total saving us over £731,000.”
A virtual environment
Places for People, Open Reality and its virtual solutions arm Brightcloud drew up a proof of concept. Once a pilot had proved feasibility, they designed a full Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp infrastructure based on Citrix XenDesktop 4.0, subsequently upgraded to XenDesktop 5.6, now incorporating XenApp 6.5.
The new environment is made up of 3,000 seats. The physical estate of 1,200 PCs has been replaced with 1,200 Thin Clients, with 70% of staff accessing a Virtual Desktop.
Citrix XenDesktop allows the IT Team to manage the desktop provision to employees in a very controlled, quick and efficient manner, while Citrix XenApp 6.5 enables it to provision additional virtual desktops and virtual applications for employees quickly, flexibly and securely across the organisation’s 200 sites. In addition, Citrix Receiver enables employees to realise the benefits of BYOD.
The natural migration from PCs to thin clients and virtual desktops delivered an immediate capital cost saving of £552,565, plus the promise of significant annual savings moving forward.
The annual reduction in power and cooling costs is already over £123,600 and this will increase as energy prices continue to soar. Annual support costs have been slashed by nearly £55,000 a year to £5,600, and there is also likely to be significant tax relief based on an annual carbon reduction of 370 tonnes.
Customer service excellence
The Citrix XenDesktop solution provides enhanced IT capabilities to each Place for People employee, enabling them to be more efficient and productive and deliver the best possible service to tenants and customers.
One major change is the ability of operations and service staff to log issues whilst on the move, which increases the number of visits they can make and the speed at which follow-up actions can be made. Skilled labour teams can focus on maintenance and repairs, accessing Places for People servers through a netbook device to log enquiries and hours.
“The initial Citrix XenDesktop pilot delivered a clear business case for Places for People to implement a virtual desktop strategy. It demonstrated the benefits that mobile technology can deliver to customer-facing employees,” explained Thomson.
“The feedback from the field also made it clear that technology was now aiding, and not hindering, their day-to-day functionality. In the two years since introducing the initial virtual IT infrastructure, customer satisfaction levels have never been higher.”
Implementing Citrix XenDesktop technologies has also improved business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities. In the event of an outage, the IT team can quickly redirect virtual machines to a back-up, ensuring almost seamless disaster recovery.
The new IT infrastructure is appropriate for a company like Places for People that operates in a very tightly regulated industry and has a strong corporate responsibility (CSR) policy, for which People for Places has BITC Platinum status.
Mobile devices used by the operational teams carry highly confidential information relating to each tenant, which needs to be kept secure under the stipulations of the Data Protection Act. Citrix XenDesktop technology ensures that all data remains secure when on the access device and when being transferred from device to server.
CSR requirements are satisfied by a dramatic reduction in Places for People’s energy consumption and overall carbon footprint of nearly 400 tonnes per year.
In conclusion, Thomson said: “The Citrix Virtual Desktop environment has dramatically reduced the amount of energy needed to host, manage and maintain our IT infrastructure. The time and money saved can now be ploughed back into the development of the services we deliver and the quality of service that supports these. The Citrix VDI platform has been well received by the organisation and the entire project has been an outstanding success.”