Independent software vendor (ISV) igroup wanted to migrate its collaboration platform based on Microsoft SharePoint to the public cloud to deliver a more responsive and agile service. igroup is using Windows Azure Virtual Machines for its customised services to schools, healthcare, and other public sector customers. As well as increased agility, Windows Azure is more cost effective for customers without the need for physical infrastructure or hardware.

Business Needs

Founded in 2005, igroup is a Microsoft Gold Partner specialising in Microsoft SharePoint technology for enterprises in the public sector, principally in healthcare and education. Based in Warrington and London, igroup has been awarded ISO 9001, the quality management standard and has delivery teams throughout the United Kingdom (UK).

National Health Service (NHS) trusts in the UK are under pressure to cut costs, leading them to consider mergers with other NHS trusts and integrated healthcare services with tier-one local authorities. During periods of change such as this, intranet sites become an important way of sharing information.

Steve Rastall, SharePoint Consultant, igroup, says: "SharePoint is a great basis for improving collaboration in the NHS. But, many trusts lack the time or the skills to manage the hardware or implement the software let alone customise it for their needs."

One such igroup NHS customer is Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool, which provides care for more than 200,000 children a year. Martin McEwan, Marketing and Communications Director, Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, says: "We needed an experienced Microsoft Partner to work closely with us to deliver a new-look intranet—even though it was the same SharePoint system."

In education, igroup has also helped to build a collaborative platform to connect parents, students, and school staff at three primary schools in the north west of England. Rastall says: "There are some common additional modules we can provide by way of customisation that schools look for over and above the usual SharePoint product."

igroup is also working with Transport for Greater Manchester, which coordinates public transport services in Greater Manchester. The authority wanted igroup to deliver a more robust web platform for its customer-facing websites, which are scalable for busy periods. Paul Howarth, Project Manager—Information Services, Transport for Greater Manchester, says: "We also needed to share documentation with suppliers and other key partners."

Solution

igroup used Windows Azure Virtual Machines to create a solution called NHS Point for the hospital trust, and a similar solution for Transport for Greater Manchester. It gives developers the capability of deploying their own servers and virtual machines. For the children’s hospital trust and the transport authority, igroup makes use of Windows Azure to host SharePoint servers as well as web roles and Blobs.

Rastall, says: "Windows Azure makes it easy to provision the hardware needed to deliver a SharePoint service and all the standard images are available. From a business and marketing perspective, this means it’s possible for igroup to reuse its intellectual property and bring new services to market quickly for our public sector customers such as the NHS and Transport for Greater Manchester."

Business agility and user-friendly solutions are part of this premium value-added public cloud service from igroup. Rastall says: "NHS Point is easy to manage and includes prefabricated templates for staff collaboration, staff and patient communication, location of patient records, and benchmarks. There’s no hardware to manage and no in-house technical support requirement."

The equivalent igroup service for education—Schools Point—makes use of the same cloud-based Windows Azure Virtual Machines platform as NHS Point. Rastall says: "It’s easy for schools with limited IT resources to manage and includes modules for reporting, document sharing, timetables, and risk assessments. This reduces time spent on paperwork and improves efficiency. From an igroup perspective, Windows Azure makes it faster to deliver a service to a new school."

Benefits

igroup is using Windows Azure to offer customised SharePoint services in the public cloud—in particular, verticals such as healthcare, education, and transportation. Windows Azure delivers greater business agility while making use of existing IT assets. Customers have no need to invest capital in expensive physical infrastructure because Windows Azure scales easily to meet peaks in demand and operates on a pay-as-you-go model.

• igroup offers scalability and reliability with Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Howarth at Transport for Greater Manchester says: "igroup has been helpful and cooperative. We have a much more robust web platform for our customer-facing websites with Windows Azure, which scales during busy periods. igroup has also managed to automate many key updates to data in our Metrolink site."

• Hospital trust appreciates consultative approach from igroup. McEwan says: "It was clear early on that igroup understood the issues we were experiencing. Following some diagnostic analysis, it proposed a plan to make significant improvements to the way our site was working and how it looked. igroup listened to what our employees said was important to them and proposed sensible solutions, working closely with us to deliver a new-look intranet."

• Schools Point reduces IT support burden and boosts learning outcomes. The school’s igroup cloud platform is helping to reduce its IT support burden and at the same time helping to improve learning outcomes. Increasing government reporting obligations are also accommodated by the platform.

• igroup uses Windows Azure Virtual Machines to improve business agility for customers. Howarth at Transport for Greater Manchester says: "The document management system has brought benefits to our finance teams by having all supplier invoices in one place so that they’re easily accessible and searchable. Our project management teams now have the means to collaborate and share documents with suppliers and other key partners, with the advantage of version control."