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Anyone who takes over 42 nursing homes in the space of 10 short years is inevitably confronted with a mismatch of IT systems. Senior Living Group decided to sort everything out in one fell swoop and opted for a single virtual server environment hosted at Belgacom.
Senior Living Group is owned by the investment fund Waterland Private Equity and was founded in 2004. In less than 10 years, the group took over 42 nursing homes in Belgium. Between them they house over 5,000 residents. The company has more than 3,000 employees under contract. “Management of the nursing homes is done almost entirely locally,” says CEO Bart Bots. “Within a framework of clear agreements, each director manages their ‘own’ nursing home: taking care of business as they see fit and there’s no need to ask for permission for every little detail. In exchange for this freedom, we ask for thorough and prompt reporting to our central management. And then, of course, a good IT infrastructure is also indispensable.”
Putting out fires
That is why, in March last year, IT Manager Wim Van Boghout was hired. It is his job to create uniformity in the infrastructure of the nursing homes and to streamline it. “When I started, we had 27 nursing homes,” explains Van Boghout. “About 20 of these had their own server on which everything was run. Each machine was deployed for various tasks independently. They all had to be managed separately and that took tremendous time and work. And there certainly wasn’t sufficient cooling or a reliable backup in place, for example. If there were problems, unauthorized employees would often simply pull out the plug. Actually, we were constantly struggling to keep abreast of what was happening and spent all our time putting out fires.”
The strategy that Van Boghout created in order to improve the situation is not difficult to summarize: tabula rasa. “We first inventoried all the kinds of software that were running,” he says. “That ranged from highly specific software for providing healthcare to invoicing software and smaller programs for example, for planning and employee registration. For the management and scalability, it quickly became clear that we needed to work with a single central server system.” For the installation of the hardware platform (HP and VMware), Senior Living Group turned to integrator Cheops in Aartselaar. Van Boghout: “We briefly considered installing our own server room but we quickly abandoned the idea.”
And so the choice was made for a rack at the Belgacom datacenter in Evere. It has been operational since last November. Van Boghout: “All the nursing homes already had Internet via ADSL lines and our voice-based solutions also come from Belgacom. We had already established good contacts and had a lot of positive experience with them. So we didn’t have to undertake a large-scale search for a supplier; the choice was made fairly quickly. The installation of a server of this type is no sinecure of course but, all things considered, it went fairly quickly.” In the meantime, on the server side, everything is up and running. In the course of 2012 the different locations will be systematically connected to the new infrastructure via a Belgacom Explore line and the local applications will be replaced by the central version.
One little cable
The new infrastructure has made life a lot easier for the IT team at Senior Living Group. Van Boghout: “The entire network – including the switches – is now in the capable hands of Belgacom. The time this saves is incredible. I remember that I once drove halfway across Belgium just to replace one little cable in a nursing home. Fortunately, those days are over: everything has been virtualized now. We can monitor everything centrally, which is obviously a whole lot easier. And the scalability is also going very smoothly. The system was initially planned for 27 nursing homes but, in the meantime, we have 42 locations and, thanks to the architecture and the hardware-based scalability, it is no problem to keep up with this growth.”
Senior Living Group is the largest player in the private segment of the Belgian nursing home sector. They manage 7 nursing homes in Wallonia and 9 in Brussels; 26 are located in Flanders.
For more information on virtualization, visit the Belgacom website or contact your Account Manager.
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