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Oxfam International can rely on its IT infrastructure safe in the knowledge that with Portal Partnership it has the support and backup it needs whenever it is required. This means it can concentrate on its primary work - of campaigning and making a difference to people's lives - rather than being side-tracked or hindered by technical issues.

Case study
Four years ago Oxfam International needed to change its IT support arrangements to cope with the increasingly sophisticated demands. According to Amby Hitchcox, Financial and Administrative Manager of Oxfam International, the organisation’s network and communications infrastructure was still at a basic level and was not working to maximum efficiency. “The original request was for someone to come in and re-configure the systems and core hardware to make things run more smoothly,” she says.

At that stage, the Portal Partnership established the cost of upgrading the organisation's technology and drew up a support scheme which would mean the system would be ready for new challenges going into the future. The system upgrade followed, first hardware, then step installations of the required software giving the organisation use of more up-to-date versions of Lotus Notes, increasing integration with the password protected intranet and clustered Domino servers to handle international emailing and secure, workflow-enabled applications. In addition, an extended help desk model was set up whereby if local users in satellite offices could not get help from Amby, they had backup from the Portal Partnership support consultants when required. More complex issues or infrastructure issues were dealt with directly by Portal Partnership, minimizing the impact of IT outages on the user-base.

Having a single supplier for all their IT requirements has made Amby Hitchcox's life much easier: “I don't have to keep organising meetings with three different parties,” she says. “Whatever the issue I can call in just one person. Not only that, but the Portal Partnership knows what we're trying to do as an organisation. This means if we need any more detailed work the developers are working within an environment they already understand.”

Interestingly, despite the unique work of the organisation it is not necessary for Oxfam International to invest in bespoke solutions. As Hitchcox says their requirements are fairly straightforward - Microsoft Office, a reliable e-mailing system and a good content management system for the website - all delivered across the international locations. For this level of functionality it has been best practice to implement solutions already proven by the market - it can be more reassuring to use a solution which already performs well in other contexts rather than trying to create something entirely new. When faced with a new challenge, Hitchcox says she knows there is usually a product that can do what needs to be done, she just doesn't know what that product is. On this level, the Portal Partnership's strategic input and advice has been invaluable.

A little more challenging has been the management of the external web content management system which needs to be accessed by all 13 organisations. While this system is built on an open source platform Hitchcox has found Portal Partnership's advice to be extremely useful in ensuring the system works with their existing WAN, that they have the equipment they need and do not spend finance unnecessarily on extra applications or equipment which bring them little or no value.

Refreshingly, the working relationship between the two organisations is flexible and adaptable so Oxfam International is not in danger of being landed with an unexpected significant additional expense. “We have a basic support contract for a monthly amount,” explains Hitchcox, “and we can buy in extra hours depending on what we need - development work, infrastructure advisory meetings and so on.”

With support delivered both off site and through regular onsite visits to Oxfam Internationals' UK offices, the Portal Partnership can access individual computers remotely and securely if required in order to iron out problems or coach users through new processes. “The Portal Partnership are generous with their advisory time,” adds Hitchcox, “They're sound business suppliers who know better than to charge for every two seconds.”

As evidence of the extent to which the relationship between Oxfam International and the Portal Partnership has grown, the future will see the consultancy service take more of a lead in strategy and systems recommendation for the organisation. “They completely understand what we're trying to do,” notes Hitchcox, “They understand how our systems need to work across different locations and as such I'm happy for them to take on this new role.”

Hitchcox estimates 98% of their work and communications are carried out electronically and in today's internet driven world this is unlikely to change. In this context it is not acceptable to be let down by IT or communications systems at any time. The importance of working with reliable systems and reliable suppliers is as great for a not-for-profit organisation as it is for any company - if not more so, since the finance received is so precious and cannot be wasted.

“I require absolute efficiency of systems, absolute value for money and there is no room to waste a penny,” says Hitchcox. “Our technology helps us to work around the world and we cannot afford to be off line at any time.”

Formed in 1996, Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 organisations working together with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty, suffering and injustice. The organisations are based in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Quebec, Spain and the United States. Stichting Oxfam International, the co-ordinating body, has its main Secretariat office in Oxford, UK.

Business need: This campaigning organisation requires effective and efficient communications and IT support for all its work, whether that infrastructure resides in the UK, Europe or the US. It is essential that activities around the world are co-ordinated efficiently, securely and cost effectively, underpinned by contractual SLAs.

Solution: An ongoing partnering relationship with the Portal Partnership ensures Oxfam International’s IT infrastructure is designed to best meet the needs of the business while continually evaluated to ensure optimal performance. The solution has included implementation and support for a clustered Lotus Notes & Domino infrastructure, satellite-office WAN network infrastructure design and infrastructure consultancy for a web content management system.

For more information, please contact:

Monique Chambers
Compass Rose Marketing & PR
0207 871 2781

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