Red Cross wins $10m ICT grant from Microsoft

The organisation will use the grant to revamp its IT infrastructure and functionality

The Australian Red Cross has won a competitive $10 million grant from Microsoft Australia which will enable it to revamp its aging IT fleet and modernise IT functions across the organisation.

Red Cross director of IT, Warren Don, told Computerworld Australia the organisation’s previous investment in technology had been minimal, with the last rebuild conducted between 1998 and 2002.

The organisation has around 3060 users of its IT environment and 2450 devices, most of which are shared. Previously, users were working on what Don describes as “old mainframe technology” with Citrix terminals around the country and old versions of Microsoft Office, share files and spreadsheets and incompatible Access databases.

“The caseworkers and the volunteers of Red Cross are succeeding in spite of our technology rather than because of it,” Don said.

“What we want to be able to do is provide the most current, up to date information to our staff and volunteers in the field, concerning their clients, their cases, and the information we need to be giving to those workers so they can provide a better service for individuals.

“We’re aiming to have work practices, procedures and communications coming back from the case workers about what has happened in a more timely fashion and figuring out how we can provide more appropriate services.”

According to Don, the relationship with Microsoft began back in 2010 following the Victorian bushfires when the software giant wanted to lend a hand.

“We had to apply for the grant worldwide, which was first submitted in November 2010, and we had to go through a competitive process first gaining the support of Microsoft Australia, then the Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore and then it had to go to Seattle where the application was reviewed in depth against other requests from around the world.”

Under the grant, the Red Cross will roll out Microsoft SharePoint, Lync, Exchange 2010, Windows 7 and 8, Office 2010/2013, System Center Suite, Visio & Project, SQL Server, Visual Studio and Windows Server.

“We’re really looking forward to the Microsoft Lync communications software functionality, so we can integrate what happens on the screen, the telephone, and on the internet, and can put timely information in front of our case workers and also back in our headquarters for the case worker advisors," Don said.

“We’re also looking forward to having computing power out in the field and in the offices. For the more remote offices we’re looking forward to a version of Windows and Office that works effectively on a tablet so we can provide those services anywhere and everywhere.”

The rollout is scheduled for completion in 2013, Don said, and will be carried out one business unit at a time.

“The big challenge for us will be training and the migration of our unstructured information, Word, Excel, PowerPoint files, and photograph files which we have to migrate that from the current shared files into a proper SharePoint management solution.”

The organisation has also been working on moving to a new Fujitsu data centre in Homebush, Sydney, after its hosted data centre (also in Sydney) ran out of space.

“We’re building an industry standard data centre that is actually a Cloud concept but it’s an internal Cloud, so when the Cloud market matures further we’ll be positioned to move to it.”

The data centre is schedule to come online in two weeks and the migration of information from current files will begin in around four weeks, Don said.

Microsoft Australia managing director, Pip Marlow, said the decision to award the grant to the Red Cross came down to the organisation’s potential to help vulnerable Australians.

“Red Cross has a special place in our community as one of the core institutions that Australians can turn to in times of need,” Marlow said in a statement.

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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