Granta Housing Society

Company: PerleCustomer: Granta Housing SocietySubmitted by: MCC InternationalDate: July 2000Granta Housing Society is one of the busiest property management organisations in East Anglia. During the last seven years, the Society has regularly upgraded its communications infrastructure to accommodate a growing number of remote sites.To achieve this successfully, Granta required reliable remote access technology to support its expansion.Based in Cambridge, Granta Housing currently manages more than 1,800 properties in the surrounding area, with a turnover in excess of £14 million.

It has 19 satellite offices in Cambridgeshire, seven in Essex, four in Hertfordshire and three in Suffolk, all of which needed to be connected to the central site in Cambridge. These offices are located in group homes, providing supported accommodation to a variety of special needs groups. The majority of Granta Housing’s 400+ staff is located in these homes and as such, required access to the society’s central servers.The deployment of a managed communications infrastructure to deliver the benefits of corporate e-mail and an Intranet was previously constrained by the high cost of the related hardware, such as routers and switches. Although staff in the satellite offices had dial-up access to the core applications, they didn’t have access to standard, centralised Windows-based office products. Dial-up connections were made via a rack-mounted modem system that was expensive to maintain, delivered low connection speeds and a limited number of server connections via serial ports.

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Thus slowing productivity, as the system capacity was reached all too easily.In 1999, Granta made the decision to completely upgrade their communications network to provide their satellite offices with dial access through both analogue and ISDN connections. Following a competitive tendering exercise, Granta awarded their long-time IT solution provider, Hertfordshire-based, OmniLedger Limited, with the task of implementing an efficient and cost-effective communications network. Granta was satisfied that OmniLedger’s success with Pyramid, e-accountancy application suite, and previous support would also be mirrored in this new venture.”Our existing system was coming under a number of pressures,” explains Phillip Prince, Finance Director at Granta Housing Society. “It had served us well but was increasingly over-stretched.

We were about to move into a third head office that would also need to be integrated into the network. Consequently we decided to focus on fully connecting all our outlying projects and the three head office locations, giving them full e-mail and Intranet facilities as well as two-way communications with our head offices.”Committed to the ongoing development of its flagship software suite, OmniLedger continues today to integrate it with standard PC office automation packages, which provide their customers greater flexibility for their data capture and presentation requirements. To this end, faced with a widespread demand for built-in Wide Area Networking (WAN) capability, OmniLedger added Perle remote access products to its portfolio. With the Perle remote access products, OmniLedger can give their customers the real-time access solution they need to their database.”Over the last six months, communication has become a major issue for us,” says OmniLedger Sales Manager, Lee Wagnall.

“For some time, we’d been looking for a device which could provide true network connectivity via standard telephone lines. The Perle range of remote access servers [RAS] helps us to provide our customers with dial-up access and ISDN connectivity as well as a WAN capability, which is now one of our biggest selling points.”He adds that the Perle products are easy to install and require minimal management, an important factor given that Granta does not employ a dedicated IT officer. The RAS can be described as an “out of the box” solution, as it is simply unpacked, set up and switched on.OmniLedger installed a highly competitive solution that comprises of a Perle 833 RAS at the Society’s headquarters in Cambridge.

With a capacity for connections to up to 40 remote sites, it also offers a fully integrated communications infrastructure and a number of new PCs providing staff with network access to the Windows NT server.”We always work on the principle that IT is a shared resource, so as our new system becomes more user-friendly, it will become more of a core skill,” says Prince.This is a notable factor in the way the Society is reaping the benefits of its investment, which has helped to impose a centralised discipline on the management of its IT resources. Previously, for example, staff at satellite sites were responsible for performing their own data backups on their remote PCs. Data storage has now been centralised onto the Society’s file server, enhancing its data security practices.Prince says, “There are a number of important benefits to the Perle solution.

Software upgrades can be automatically distributed to our outlying sites, affording us better virus protection. We can offer our staff better regulated Internet access and we have more control over the transmission of e-mails, helping us to manage against the threat of any significant abuse of the facility.”Apart from faster communications, the new system has also enabled the Society to link its PCs to upgraded photocopiers, introducing a very economic form of printing services. Users can also send faxes directly from their remote workstations, making each member of staff a fully networked client.With the successful implementation of its new communications infrastructure now complete, Granta expects to exploit it fully in the future. The Society is in the process of establishing an Intranet that will be the repository for all its procedures files and documentation, and advertising records, removing its previous reliance on the paper-based distribution of information.

It is also using the new communications infrastructure to provide images of stored documentation, in order to more fully explain the financial information transactions as part of its budgetary control system. These images are also being used to solve archiving issues through centralised electronic storage.