Improving their service
How a new network for Lincolnshire St. John Ambulance brought great results
"We try to keep ahead," says Jim Buckland, County Executive Office for St. John Ambulance in Lincolnshire. It's something of an understatement. His operation uses the latest server technology to connect twelve divisional headquarters in the county and to run the day-to-day operations at the head office with eight PCs.
He has revolutionised the organisation's IT infrastructure in the nine years since he started working for the charity. "When I first came, the computers were outdated - you couldn't do graphics and they weren't networked." Now they run Microsoft Windows Small Business Server (SBS) and link their computers together using the very latest networking hardware and a broadband internet connection.
This has already paid dividends. Although a charity, they raise significant sums by selling first aid courses commercially. But with only one part-time member of staff to look after the bookings, they often found themselves double-booking sessions or, worse, losing business because they couldn't confirm a particular date. After all, they have people calling every day, whether there's someone to take the booking or not.
They solved the problem using a feature in Exchange Server 2003 (part of SBS) that allows them to share calendars. This means that everyone in the office can check when courses are booked: "any of us can access it and put in a booking," says Jim. "The next time someone called to ask if a date was available, we can check immediately. This means we can give far better customer service."
They have also exploited the way that SharePoint (another part of SBS) allows them to create private intranet websites easily. They use this to co-ordinate outlying volunteer divisions across the county. There is all sorts of information on the site: announcements, important documents such as the training programs, lists of trainers, application forms and so on.
"It's almost like a message board," says Jim. They even put up photographs of events so that the volunteers can see themselves in action.
�What you don't want is to clutter up the place with information and bits of paper which can be filed electronically. �
Because the intranet also allows members access to their SBS-hosted email accounts, all the volunteers are able to email one another. When they are called on to provide first aid cover for a large event, it allows them to email a wide range of members quickly and make sure that they can find enough people.
"It's an enormous county in terms of land mass but only about 600,000 [inhabitants]. Sometimes you have to travel considerable distances to take part in anything. Any way of communicating is very useful," Jim explains.
Digital filing cabinet
They work with their IT partner who provides a monthly computer health check-up. Their IT supplier also keeps them at the cutting edge of technology: everyone has been equipped with LCD flat panel screens and they have a tape backup device and redundant hard disk system for security.
Having a central server has also allowed them to digitise their filing system. They use a commercial program to scan in their paperwork and it is stored on the server so everyone can access it. It's like a digital filing cabinet. Jim is very proud of the system: "when you're a small organisation and you have limited office space what you don't want is to clutter up the place with information and bits of paper which can be filed electronically. It's just fantastic and we're able to do it because we've got SBS."
Overall, says Jim, "I have to say we've been very pleased with what we've got. A lot of organisations, and certainly other St. John Ambulance organisations, are envious."
Visit the St John Ambulance website to find out more about the organisation.