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Action for Children

Operating for almost 150 years, Action for Children are a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting vulnerable children, young people and their families. Headquartered in London, the charity supported 368,648 people in 2019 with services including fostering, adoption and residential care across the UK, early years education, wellbeing and skills programmes, and support for disabled young people.

In addition to providing these vital services, Action for Children campaign for policy changes, conduct research and raise awareness of causes which affect families everywhere in the UK, such as domestic violence and homelessness. The charity manages circa 4000 employees and 12,000 volunteers who are passionate about their vision of ensuring “every child and young person in the UK has a safe and happy childhood, and the foundations they need to thrive.”

The challenge

Action for Children had engaged with Transparity on several digital transformation projects spanning more than three years. During the first stages, Transparity were to provide solutions to help solve the charity’s business challenges, modernise their environment, increase security and cut costs.

Additionally, Action for Children expressed a desire to vacate their primary on-premises datacentre location, in which they had a very large amount of co-located hardware running approximately 200 virtual machines. This decision was driven largely by the requirement to replace the hardware, which was nearing its natural end of life. The cost of comparable new servers was estimated to be around £2.5m – untenable for a not-for-profit organisation – which meant that a new solution had to be found and implemented within approximately 6 months.

As an alternative to replacing their existing systems with new hardware, Action for Children wanted to take a “Cloud First” approach to procuring a new infrastructure. This would offer a lower cost of ownership, increase reliability and security, and be scalable to accommodate both their existing and future high workloads.

Thanks to a strong and sustained relationship, Action for Children were confident that Transparity had the expertise to recommend, deploy and manage a solution for them within the Microsoft Cloud; a technology in which the charity had already made significant investments in, both financially and strategically.

The solution

Transparity implemented Microsoft 365; an enterprise-grade suite of services that combines best-of-breed security, productivity and collaboration tools with Office 365 applications. Of particular use was Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS), incorporating Microsoft Intune, Azure AD Premium and Azure Information Protection. These sophisticated security solutions empower Action for Children’s employees to work easily outside the office whilst ensuring sensitive and highly-confidential service user information was kept protected. The charity would be able to set its own access policies to determine who could view or edit certain documents; ideal for temporary staff or volunteers. Additionally, with a large number of staff needing to travel as part of their role, this solution would offer secure Mobile Device Management which can be easily controlled by the organisation from one central place.

To compliment the deployment of Intune and ensure a seamless user experience, Transparity also enabled Windows Virtual Desktop. This meant that the existing Citrix XenApp solution could be decommissioned, reducing operational expenditure costs and maximising the investment in Microsoft 365 licensing. Windows 10-enabled devices were also rolled out to support this transition, all of which can be managed by Intune.

When the time came for Action for Children’s Cloud migration, Transparity recommended a move to Microsoft Azure thanks to the platform’s innate scalability, enhanced security and high availability. Azure offers a 99.9% or higher SLA on uptime; essential to support the vital services carried out by the charity.

Transparity proposed a “like for like” approach using Azure Site Recovery, which would limit both administrative effort and downtime. As there was a very large amount of data and apps to transfer, this was a project that needed to be executed as quickly as possible with a minimum amount of disruption. Once the initial migration had been completed, there would be a second phase to modernise and make the environment more efficient.

Prior to implementation, to ensure that the charity’s infrastructure would be able to run effectively and efficiently whilst keeping data secure, Transparity ran a number of Governance Workshops. With a large amount of systems and apps being brought together, it was important to ascertain that Action for Children could have a “single pane of glass” access to all infrastructure, but with the ability to partition servers and services to supplement the operational needs of all teams and roles. The configuration of role-based access for Azure portal users – coupled with multi-factor authentication – would ensure that access to classified data is limited only to those who needed it.

The existing SQL servers were then transitioned to SQL Managed Instance, which offers a straightforward way of moving on-premise applications to the Cloud whilst retaining essential Platform as a Service (PaaS) capabilities such as high availability and automated updates. Using SQL Managed Instance also addresses any security concerns with the on-premise servers as well as offering the highest chance of compatibility between old and new solutions, helping with a smooth transition.

Finally, to ensure that Action for Children’s new environment was fully supported, Transparity provide their Gold Managed Support Service. This offers the charity 3rd-Line support from Transparity’s most knowledgeable technical experts, with direct out-of-hours escalation to Microsoft where needed. The service also includes round-the-clock proactive monitoring, alerts and resolution to address any issues before they can cause any detrimental effect.

The outcome

Action for Children now have a modern, Cloud-based infrastructure which has allowed them to eliminate on-premises servers and accompanying solutions, such as Citrix XenApp. The new solution is much more flexible, as Azure offers the charity the ability to scale up and down in line with their changing business requirements and operational needs. Microsoft 365 apps ensure that they have a secure and collaborative environment – with staff able to work from anywhere – and the organisation are confident that they are fully supported by Transparity Cloud experts should they ever need it.

Transitioning to the Microsoft Cloud also means that Action for Children have been able to move from CapEx to OpEx spending, and a lower total cost of ownership means that the charity can use more money to fund their good work across the UK. The “lift and shift” approach to migration used by Transparity meant that downtime was minimal despite the extremely high workload, ensuring that Action for Children could continue to provide an uninterrupted, essential lifeline to their vulnerable service users.