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 Case Study : Citizens Advice Service
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Every Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is a registered charity reliant on volunteers. Bureaux help solve around 5.6 million new problems every year which are central to people's lives, including debt and consumer issues, benefits and tax credits, housing, legal matters, employment, and immigration. Advisers can help fill out forms, write letters, negotiate with creditors and represent clients at court or tribunal.

There are 516 main member bureaux in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and advice is regularly provided from around 2,800 locations. Each CAB is an independent charity, relying on funding from the local authority, Legal Services Commission, NHS Trusts and from local business, charitable trusts and individual donations.

Using technology to provide better services
Citizens Connect is a 20 million, IT-led initiative that will enable bureaux to use new technologies to provide an even better service for clients, and a more efficient working environment for staff and volunteers. By October 2004, over 800 bureaux sites in England and Wales will be linked up to a virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure enabling home visits and outreach sessions to take place, have use of a new, electronic case recording and filing system called CASE, and be able to access e-government services on behalf of clients - especially those unable to use them for themselves. Citizens Connect will also help Citizens Advice to increase the effectiveness of social policy work.

The IT infrastructure for Citizens Advice is outsourced to HP, with Everlogic delivering the VPN roll-out for the Citizens Connect programme. Everlogic introduced Preferred Computers to Citizens Advice, when the organisation sought the capability to determine performance across their IT infrastructure. Preferred Computers are a long established HP reseller and the sole UK agent for End-End Software.

The challenge
CASE is a hosted service based upon a server cluster located centrally within a managed HP environment and delivered over a VPN comprising ADSL, Leased Line and Dial-Up connections. The challenges for Citizens Advice in implementing this part of the Citizens Connect Programme were twofold.

Firstly, there was a requirement to conduct intensive performance testing of the infrastructure in order to confirm all necessary fit for purpose criteria prior to implementing the service.

Secondly, Citizens Advice needed the ability to measure, on an on-going real time basis, end-to-end performance of the CASE application as a whole, and also have the capability to monitor the behaviour of its constituent parts (Workstation, Network and Server) - a critical function in providing effective business support for an evolving product as well as supporting capacity planning for future growth.

For instance, prior to the deployment of End-End Software, the performance of CASE, as seen by end users, was potentially subjective and anecdotal. However, Citizens Advice now has the data to confirm or dispell instances where the application is seen to run slowly.

The solution
End-End Software is an Application Performance Monitoring software product that looks at applications transactions from and end-user perspective. It provides information such as system response times, and identifies where bottlenecks are located in an infrastructure.

End-End Software helps organisations understand end-user activity - for example, how many applications and transactions do they complete a day? What are the response times of the applications - wherever they are located?

A pilot copy of End-End Software was installed by Preferred Computers to allow Citizens Advice to determine the real performance provided by the CASE application.

Immediate benefits
When End-End Software was initially installed at Citizens Advice in London and within some trial bureaux sites, some benefits were visible within hours. End-End Software confirmed that whilst the infrastructure was performing as expected against design specifications, it was actually the CASE application that was raising user queries.

Through using End-End Software, the Citizens Connect Programme identified and confirmed a number of performance issues thus allowing the project team to concentrate resources on resolving them.

End-End Software has the potential to deliver a speedy return on investment when deployed within a diverse network environment. It confirmed the challenges users were reporting and provided valuable data for the development team to get specific issues and problems resolved.

To date, End-End Software has provided us with a valuable tool for monitoring and measuring the performance of our case recording and filing service (CASE) over a national VPN network, said Paul Herink, Citizens Connect Test and Release Manager.

End-End Software has helped us to identify which elements within our managed service infrastructure have experienced performance issues, allowing us to focus our efforts on effectively resolving them.

The End-End Software solution, as proposed by Preferred Computers and Networks, was adopted by Citizens Advice following an evaluation process that compared the relative merits of a number of products offering application performance monitoring. Unlike some of the other products on offer, End-End Software employs real and not synthesised data, an important distinction where proprietary applications are concerned.

In addition, cost, as well as functionality, is always a central issue for charities and End-End Software has successfully struck the balance between usability, capability and affordability.

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Preferred Computers & Networks Ltd.
314 Upton Lane
Tel : 0161 786 0900