The Three-Year Turnaround: How Turning Point Transformed Its IT Infrastructure Using Cisco
In this digital age, it’s no longer acceptable for healthcare providers to operate using systems as old as the industry itself. I found that out firsthand as I led one of the most challenging systems overhauls of my lengthy IT career.
At Turning Point, we're a 50-year-old not-for-profit national health and social care provider. We're £110 million in revenue, 4,000 staff, and around 250 sites across England and Wales. We offer health and social care services in hospitals, prisons, and primary care settings.
Of our four main business units, our biggest one is substance misuse. We also focus on learning disabilities, mental health, criminal justice, and unemployment. Without organizations like this, there are a lot of people in society who wouldn't be helped.
There are no shareholders to pay; no dividends. It’s very rewarding because we’re all about helping society. All the profits are invested back into the company to develop better services.
We get a lot of business that many other providers won't bid on because there's not a high enough profit margin. This obviously has its challenges. It means we have to be incredibly thoughtful with every decision we make—especially capital intensive ones.
Battling the Major Symptoms of IT Illness
When I joined Turning Point, they had major IT issues. There were continuous outages, among other problems, and there was quite a lot of risk involved because of the legacy systems in place.
Our infrastructure was terribly outdated for our growth aspirations. But about three years ago, the organization looked to push digital delivery so we could branch out and offer services digitally. A new CIO came in and immediately launched a transformational IT program to roll out these services—which is why I was brought in.
The goal was to change everything from the ground up: from networking, communications, information, enterprise content management, infrastructure, security, and more. The business basically restructured.
Turning Point recruited me to head up the network and communications overhaul. I brought in a whole new team of people who realized Turning Point’s IT legacy systems just didn’t work and weren't managed properly.
Assessing the Best Course of Treatment
When I first started at Turning Point, I couldn’t believe what I was entering. I didn’t understand how on earth an organization this big had been able to survive with this level of technology and risk?
They operated in a wires-only wide area network with a large provider. We had Netgear switches everywhere. It was basically consumer-grade equipment. There was no centralized management nor centralized overview of service level agreements (SLAs) and contract negotiation. It'd just been built up and added on to over the years.
I spent a couple of months going through all the bills, but there was no documentation. There was no centralized inventory. Nothing added up. All the records were completely inaccurate.
Luckily, my long work history within the healthcare sector helped me understand the challenges. And to get us back on course, standardization was a huge driver for me, and I wanted to be able to provision telephony very quickly. Unified Communications (UC) was a key part of that initiative.
The Best Medicine for an Ambitious Overhaul
To achieve a transformation of this magnitude, I knew we’d need to use Cisco. Not only are they a market leader in the areas where we fell behind, but I’d had a great experience using them in the past. At first, I struggled with trying to sell the vision that we needed standardization, but once I was able to show that Cisco had validated designs and could scale to any needs we had in the future, leadership understood my position. Our initial investment included standardized models of LAN switches: the 2960-X models and the 3560-CX series.
But the UC was where we had a bit more debate. There was a push from management to use Skype for Business because they had the perception that there were many customers on Skype and we could connect them to Skype for Business and send it to the cloud, but this was not the case. Skype and Skype for Business are two different platforms. Again, Cisco’s offering was clearly the choice for us to make the technology side of our business up to date.
One of the big things we've been able to do with Cisco is centralize platforming, which gives us a great deal of agility and cost savings as well. We centralized our call control and all our calls that we accept. It's all voice over IP (VoIP), so the agility is there.
We can turn out services very quickly, whereas before, we had a legacy ISDN technology and unsupported PBX systems. Nothing was connected, essentially. It was all PSTN to PSTN calls. We’ve managed to do away with that now.
The contact center is all hooked in, we instant message with Jabber, we’ve developed our TelePresence, and we're really starting to derive a lot of value from that technology now.
We're just about to deploy TelePresence endpoints in tele-med working environments. So that means a service user can come into a clinic and sit in front of the video conferencing endpoint. They'll dial an expert clinician who can then offer remote engagement and consultation.
There's so much value in that technology because we don't have to have those types of experts in every service site. We can pull them in by moving outside geographic boundaries.
Alleviating Old-System Symptoms
The UC system has caused quite a big shift because there are many elements to it. For example, we have deployed to all our central services and business unit management teams who work on a national basis.
With Jabber they've got instant messaging access to the entire company for quick and informal discussions, group chats, and we can even do video. Their internal phone numbers follow them wherever they have their laptop.
We've realized huge travel savings, improved productivity, and offered flexible work locations. As long as they've got an internet connection, they're good to go. We've also rolled out to many staff members, which further allows them to collaborate effectively, no matter where they are.
Our Contact Center even uses Unified Contact Center Express UCCX, with our IT services desk sitting on that platform now.
They used to have absolutely zero visibility into how many calls were received. There was no call queuing facility. There was no automatic call distribution. We put a full enterprise contact center solution in place. Straightaway, we realized how many calls were dropped and we had people queuing in excess of an hour.
Now, because of the comprehensive reporting engine that sits behind UCCX, we've managed to target those call flows, those call patterns, and target resources around that. We drove the call abandonment rate down drastically—it was almost zero last week.
We have received a lot of good feedback from the business, whereas before it was a long-standing joke: "Don't bother ringing the service desk. You'll never get through."
A Clean Bill of Health
With the new systems in place, management took notice. Implementing these new systems has improved not only our bottom line and our efficiency, but our reputation as well.
For us, IT mobility and our level of site churn are hugely important considerations. With about 250 sites across the country, our team constantly bids to win business over other health and social care organizations.
But it was quite common that we'd win some business and we wouldn't be able to provide telephony on time for the site opening. All the infrastructure is now centralized, so it runs off our data network. We also have robust SLAs secured and can get new DDR numbers within one week. Today, the only thing we have to worry about is the data network being in place.
Stronger Than Ever in the New Digital Age
The Integration of scalable and resilient platforms like Jabber, Webex, and UCCX gives us a great foundation, and we can now concentrate on innovations like tele-med. This desire to deliver digital healthcare is driving our organization into the 21st century.
We’re now working on a big program to disrupt the marketplace with digital offerings and keep us at the forefront of the health and social care industry.
Over the past three years, there have been a lot of changes. We’re nothing like when I first started, which is a huge achievement for the whole IT team. Basically, every part of our systems has gone through some sort of transformation.
It was a very aggressive timeline, and I think it's fair to say I've probably got a few more gray hairs than when I started. We delivered everything I said we would, which includes a full technology stack from Cisco. It includes a new wide area network, local area network, wireless, and unified communications.
But I look back and think, "Well if I can do that, then I can do anything."