by Jennifer O'Brien

Royal Flying Doctor Service no longer “flying blind” on network issues

Aug 03, 2017
Cloud Computing

Up until recently, Queensland’s Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was “flying blind” when it came to managing the performance of its network, says its ICT infrastructure manager, Dean Coulter.

“Network outages had become more frequent, the performance of mission-critical apps slowed, and we started to receive more and more complaints from our staff,” Coulter said. “But simply purchasing more network bandwidth was not an option due to the high costs involved.”

Coulter said the organisation lacked sufficient tools to identify the root cause of issues, as well as hold service providers accountable to service level agreements (SLAs). It was not a good situation for an organisation that provides left-saving healthcare for patients across the state.

To solve the problem, RFDS has rolled out the Riverbed Steelhead wide area network optimisation and SteelCentral network performance management technologies, which are the foundation for the organisation’s transition to a ‘cloud-first’ infrastructure strategy. This includes an upcoming migration to Microsoft Office 365, and is driven by a goal to more effectively manage its limited IT resources.

RFDS is responsible for delivering fly-in, fly-out GP, nursing, and allied health clinics to rural and remote communities across Australia – many of which have little to no connectivity, according to Coulter.

In Queensland, the RFDS operates 19 aircrafts from eight operational bases. Its pilots, doctors, engineers and support staff serve 95,000 patients across the state.

With RFDS services in Queensland becoming more advanced and widespread, Coulter said RFDS was pushing the limits of what their existing network could deliver – and it was starting to impact service delivery.

RFDS covers 7.3 million square kilometers, making communication and access to data critical to its success. IT infrastructure and network connectivity are the pillars upon which the RFDS service is built.

RFDS staff require around-the-clock, secure access to critical information, including patient information, emergency procedures and flight plans, which are centrally maintained in Microsoft SharePoint. RFDS’s IT system also supports the transmission of thousands of emails per hour as well as bandwidth-intensive video content vital for training field staff.

Prior to implementation, the organisation completed a proof-of-concept trial to speed up user access and accelerate the delivery of SaaS applications, and improve visibility across all of its apps, network and infrastructure.

Coulter said RFDS employees in Queensland can now access applications and data from anywhere and on any device in a cost-effective manner, increasing the level of service delivered and freeing up resources for investment in other critical areas.

“The Riverbed solution gives us a solid foundation to confidently move to the cloud. At the same time, we’ve been able to reduce bandwidth costs significantly and employee complaints have all but dropped,” he said.

“This has empowered our doctors, nurses, pilots and support staff to focus on expanding and improving the delivery of the life-saving healthcare services which have been the cornerstone of RFDS’s work for 90 years.”

RFDS has deployed the technology across all its regional sites in Queensland, with plans to implement it across laptops and mobile devices, which will provide doctors with 3G and 4G connectivity when working in remote locations with limited connectivity, Coulter said.