Stone Group - Providing digital transformation solutions to organisations across the UK.

The Background

Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust provides the full range of outpatients, diagnostics, inpatient and day case elective and emergency care in addition to a growing range of specialist treatments. It serves a local population of 380,000, and provides hyper-acute stroke, vascular and renal services to a wider population of 692,000 across the whole of Northamptonshire. The Trust is also an accredited cancer centre, providing cancer treatment and support services to a wider population of 880,000 people living in Northamptonshire and parts of Buckinghamshire.  The hospital employs around 6,500 staff servicing the local community from the main hospital site in the centre of Northampton and community hubs, including Danetre Hospital in Daventry.

The Challenge

Dave Smith is Head of Technology, and manages a team of 29 who were working with an outdated Wi-Fi solution out of vendor support.  “From a technical point of view, our team were overseeing a solution that was no longer supported by a manufacturer,” he said. “Elsewhere, staff complained about the slow Wi-Fi speed and the fact it did not work effectively in some places, while patients were equally frustrated at being unable to access free NHS Wi-Fi while on Trust premises”

The Trust issued a tender looking for a future proof solution. Despite not being aware of Stone Group initially, they were impressed with the level of detail and expertise they showed in their competitive response.

Stone work with over 20% of NHS Trusts in the UK and have tailored numerous projects in the Health and Public Sector to provide innovative solutions for organisations, meaning they understand the pressures faced by Northampton General NHS Trust. And with teams that include former CSU and CCG staff, Stone not only have the experience of working with Healthcare organisations but are well positioned to offer particularly relevant and in-depth advice.

Stone demonstrated this depth of knowledge to the Trust, as they went beyond simply compiling their proposal. They designed and wrote up a tailored Cisco Meraki solution, and precisely outlined how this would work through a site presentation, as well as providing a full proof of concept with a reference site visit. This impressed the Trust and instilled confidence that Stone were more than willing to go the extra mile compared to other suppliers.

Dave said: “As we went through due process, I was really impressed with all the boxes that Stone ticked.  However, it was when we went to see bidders on site that we noticed the real difference.

“While other competitors went through the motions, when we visited Stone, we met a room full of technical people from both Stone and Cisco Meraki who were really passionate about our project.  We knew they were taking us seriously and we were more than just another account, but a potential new partner, and we came away feeling excited about moving forward together.”

As a Cisco Premier Certified Partner, as well as one of the few resellers to hold the Cisco Meraki Master accreditation, Stone are recognised to have top-level know-how and expertise to deliver greater value with a comprehensive portfolio of Cisco and Cisco Meraki solutions, services and capabilities.

““We knew they (Stone and Cisco) were taking us seriously and we were more than just another account, but a potential new partner, and we came away feeling excited about moving forward together.””

Dave Smith – Head of Technology at the Trust

The Solution

Stone handled the technical design and configuration of the platform, working closely with the technical team onsite to ensure that all requirements were captured, and so that the team could be confident managing the new service through the cloud-based dashboard. This foundation allowed the Trust to implement the solution at their pace and provides the team with valuable data insights through its intelligent central console.

In order to begin the installation process, Stone implemented a proof of concept with 33 access points within the IT department.  Setting up the wireless points to the Trust network meant the partners could check that the configuration was working in the background.  The configuration joined Cisco Meraki access points to the hospital network and turned off the old access points.

“It was important to test all the applications, as well as acclimatise our staff to the new system and get their feedback,” said Dave. “We suddenly had a lot of data on the dashboard and obviously, we needed to understand what it all meant.”

This continued for a month to enable Dave’s team to thoroughly test all the hardware that needed to join the network, this included mobile phones, iPads and iPods.

Dave said, “The configuration and deployment was surprisingly painless, and we had access to both Stone and Cisco Meraki engineers who worked together to ensure everything went smoothly. When we did hit a minor bump in the road, around voice IP, the engineers were just brilliant, and it was sorted quickly.”

Instantly recognising the value of the improved management interface, the Trust invested in a Cisco Meraki MX security appliance to support their NHS Digital Wi-Fi service. Integration was simple, and now the trust manages all of this traffic from the same cloud-based dashboard, maintaining a separation from their main network for security purposes.

Furthermore, after an extensive evaluation of device and application management solutions, Stone provided the Trust with Cisco Meraki Systems Manager to allow the hospital to manage their devices effectively and develop its prospective technology.

The Trust was confident it had the right combination – future-proof products and a provider with an excellent reputation based on knowledge, quality and expertise, and crucially a consistent interface across a multitude of products to provide tight integration and management features.

This was a major project taking place in a business environment that operated 24/7.  The new services were integrated into live environments across the hospital through a combination of planned and out of hours’ deliveries.  “If there was anything particularly disruptive, everyone was happy to work out of hours,” said Dave.  “It was never an issue.”

The main challenge came from within the Trust itself.  The hospital site dates back to the 19th century and when  it was found some areas had issues with asbestos there was a need to deviate from the original plan. “Where we came across asbestos, we have had to opt for what we call a ‘silver’ standard with our old switches on lower power mode, until the asbestos is removed, and we can upgrade these areas to the new ‘gold’ standard.”

The Stone Difference

Stone provided a plethora of technical support using both onsite workshops and remote assistance where necessary with IT staff shadowing Stone engineers during the configuration phases. It was imperative that the technology services team were confident in the new system and Stone provided a blend of formal and informal services in a flexible bespoke package. They created a raft of both pre-and-post deployment documentation that captured critical information and enabled the internal team to efficiently manage everything they needed.

Elsewhere in the Trust, Stone provided training to key NHS staff who manage the solution day to day, so they had baseline knowledge for tasks that are relevant to each job function on the network. Cisco Meraki also trained admin staff, to ensure they were confident and certified in operating the network.

We have a close relationship with our account manager at Stone who takes my calls at all kinds of odd times

Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust

The Results

Dave said that his team were always worried about the previous inherited legacy infrastructure which was not only unreliable but out of support. “There was always the question mark around the old system – if it failed, would we be able to get it up again? From a support and risk perspective, this was unacceptable for any modern business, but especially for a hospital.  The new system that Stone installed means that we now have a reliable Wi-Fi system with no outages.  My team is no longer constantly fighting technology ‘fires’.”

This means that the Trust is able to make much better use of the team’s expertise and resources. In addition, the IT team has a much richer information system than the previous solution allowed for. Dave said: “We can now go to an individual device, such as a laptop, and see the user experience which makes it a fabulous tool for trouble shooting. In fact, the amount of information we can access is remarkable.”

From the patients and visitor perspective they now have free access to consistent Wi-Fi which is especially important when they are in the hospital for hours or even days as an in-patient.  “Being in hospital for whatever reason usually involves waiting and having access to a reliable and free service helps to pass the time,” said Dave.  “On the old system, there was no free public solution. Unreliable Wi-Fi can be quite stressful and so patients are often more relaxed and, of course, they can keep their friends and family up to date of what’s happening, whether they are a day patient or an in-patient.

“Our own staff also appreciate being able to access news and their own social media during their down time. They just need to log in once a day and they are on line quickly and for the rest of their shift. Since the new system has been introduced there has been a considerable decline in complaints about the Wi-Fi.”

Of course, arguably the most important end user of the new system are the medical staff. Like many NHS Trusts, the hospital relies on technology in most of its departments.  On the wards patient observations are recorded electronically using VitalPac via an iPod touch. Previously, if there was no Wi-Fi coverage or, if the connection was too poor, data would be locally cached on the device and then uploaded when a Wi-Fi connection was re-established and this resulted in a delay being uploaded to the central server.

Dave explains that one of the immediate impacts is the additional capacity the new Wi-Fi has which means it can handle more devices being added to it.  For example, in Radiology the team use portable medical devices which previously had to be plugged into a network point when staff wanted to transfer images.

“Now these portable machines are truly portable,” he said, “as staff can transfer images from anywhere and don’t have to find a network point to plug into.”

The same applies in the A&E department where staff have to rely on portable computers. Now the computers work from anywhere giving a more reliable and faster experience.

Over time, the Trust plan to consolidate the number of devices they have which will reduce their overall budget spend on new PCs.  Dave adds: “Previously, staff may have needed both a desk PC and a laptop if they had to work around different buildings. Now, we can provide them with just a laptop and docking station when they need new equipment. This will save money on equipment and Microsoft licences.”

This has been a major project that has been delivered with little disruption and with minimum fuss – that rarely happens

Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust

The Future

This is an on-going project and the hospital has an option to include management of other infrastructure elements such as the LAN, if required. Stone have also conducted a trial of additional switches to support future capacity across new areas of the hospital and has provided options for additional infrastructure compatible with existing environment and technical expertise to assist with deployment.

Continued investment is expected in the hospital Wi-Fi infrastructure to ensure that site wide coverage is delivered to support hospital adoption of a RFID tracking solution using the Cisco Meraki Systems Manager for Mobile device and application management.

“Tracking key pieces of heavily used equipment such medical devices and medical records will ensure better use of hospital people and resources,” said Dave.  “We can now track  laptops and other mobile devices from a central location This is the sort of future aspirational tech that the Cisco Meraki system allows for.

As a valued partner to Stone, the Trust staff also benefit from onsite Cisco technology days to further develop and understand technology advances and provide roadmaps for future initiatives. “It’s been refreshing to see how Stone and Cisco Meraki work so closely,” said Dave.  “It’s a seamless partnership and if we ever have a problem or query, they work together to ensure its solved ASAP.”

Dave says that when it comes to a project of this scale, while cost is important, it is not always the best measure of value.  “We are extremely risk averse and so working with a partner we trust implicitly to deliver a new solution that future proofs our system is priceless,” he said.  “Cost is important of course, but service and quality are equally valid, and we can easily demonstrate that our investment has been money well spent.”

“We are extremely risk averse and so working with a partner we trust implicitly to deliver a new solution that future proofs our system is priceless”
Dave Smith – Head of Technology at the Trust

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