St. Margaret’s Hospice Care is a non-profit charity in the UK that provides palliative care to the population of Somerset. They are one of the largest hospices in the UK. In 2020, they cared for more than 5,000 people across Somerset, mostly in their own homes. As well as their community teams, the hospice also has two hubs, one of which includes a 12 bedded In-patient Unit. To allow secure access for their remote-working employees, they chose Awingu.
“Even before the pandemic, we were already pushing more and more resources into our community because we can see and touch more people there. In doing so, our mobile workforce increased. We were thus designing our services in the pre-pandemic era to allow secure remote access to our internal business applications and files”, says Nick Middleton (Director of IT Services, St Margaret’s Hospice Care). However, there was a significant difference during the pandemic vs. a typical operational year, where we have had 10-15 people online at the same time for remote services. When the pandemic hit, we sometimes had more than 100 people working remotely concurrently. “
The search for a secure remote working tool
Before COVID hit, the hospice was using traditional VPN-based services to allow remote access sporadically, which unquestionably caused some challenges. “We were very restricted to the fact that people had to use a corporate device for us to be able to get them onto our system. We didn’t want to put a VPN on their home computers; that’s like opening Pandora’s Box in terms of IT security. Everybody also knows that VPN technologies are around since the 80s and haven’t changed a lot. So there’s quite a large overhead to VPNs and the governance around how you control that data. That was a real concern to us”, Jack Gorman (Senior IT Technician) told us. St Margaret’s Hospice’s IT department then started to look for another solution.
Before finding Awingu, they tried to use a web RDS platform to expand the number of people who could access their backend services. However, that system was not user-friendly and had many certification issues, multiple authentication prompts, etc. At that point, they approached Emerge Cyber Security their cybersecurity partner with whom they have a good and long relationship. Emerge Cyber Security help customers adopt new and highly effective ways of tackling cyber security challenges, with a focus on automation and continuous validation. When Emerge Cyber Security heard the hospice’s request, they knew that Awingu could address their specific needs. “As they were looking for a way to provide remote services whilst maintaining their high standards around infrastructure security, Awingu’s digital workspace ticked all the boxes,” says Jow Arif (Founder, Emerge Cyber Security).
When I started researching, the first thing he noticed was Awingu's pricing model. It impressed me that you publish your pricing, which is important from our non-profit point of view. We hate to spend hours discussing and researching a product to get a price tag we can't afford in the end. We also immediately saw it was a competitive price, so we went from there, and the more I read about Awingu, the more I was excited.”
After further discussions with Emerge Cyber Security, and an excellent demo from the Awingu team, the IT department of St. Margaret’s realized that the solution fulfilled their need to provide easy and secure remote access. Shortly after, they decided to start the POC. They had feared multiple authentication prompts like in systems they used before, but in Awingu, the SSO worked exactly as expected. Besides that, they were able to quickly improve their remote access security by using the built-in MFA, something they weren’t able to use before. “One of the most important benefits for us,” Nick tells us, “was being able to scale to a large number of users quickly. As Awingu ‘plugs in’ to our AD, our users didn’t have to make new accounts and familiarize our employees with them. We were up and running from our first introduction to rolling it out to our users in no time.”
Moreover, they also see fewer support tickets coming in. “When the employees rarely stumble across an issue, it’s never with Awingu itself, but rather an application in the environment, the internet connection, etc.” Apart from that, they also like the reporting capabilities inside Awingu. “We think it is useful having a full visibility into what people are doing and what are the most-used applications are,” says Nick.
Homeworking and external contractor access
The hospice uses Awingu for two primary cases: homeworking and external contractor access. Logically, not all the employees in the hospice are working remotely because a certain amount of people has to be in the building to take care of the patients. Nonetheless, a lot of the support services are working from home with Awingu. For example, the Awingu activity over the last six months was 19% for the corporate intranet, 16% for running full desktops, 15% for the critical line of business applications, 13% for MS Outlook, and 10% NHS Services. In other words, 25% of use is for clinical services.
The employees work inside Awingu with full desktops, use separate applications, access files, etc. “Where possible, we advise our employees to use individual apps within Awingu, but they have full desktop as a backup option. They can also directly access document locations in Awingu. But the vast majority of people use individual applications. From an IT point of view, we also have put all of our servers on there to get full desktops from a management perspective. Of course, we restrict those for a certain group of people”, says Jack.
In the opinion of the IT department, the biggest challenge was the significant change in how the employees of the hospice work. Using a VPN means you just connect to it and work on your device as you did before. However, when you start working with Awingu, there is a change in work behaviour: everything happens in the browser, so ‘hybrid’ working (i.e. locally and within Awingu) is discouraged. After guiding the employees in this journey, they quickly got used to it and started liking to work with Awingu.
As mentioned before, they also use Awingu to give external healthcare professionals (about 20-30 in the hospice) easy access to the hospice’s internal systems. “We work in very close partnership with some NHS consultants. Traditionally giving them access to medical databases has been a real pain in the backside, but with Awingu, it has been a lot more comfortable. In this case, they are just another remote user of the hospice. It has really helped us onboard external users.”, says Nick. Jack adds: “It’s absolutely convenient. Otherwise, you give someone a corporate laptop to use about once a month just for them to access our network via VPN. And now, you just say: here’s the URL and your credentials. It’s definitely easier this way.”
Towards a flexible working future
The IT department also has a clear vision about the future of remote working at St. Margaret’s Hospice: “We believe that COVID has upended our relation to work. Of course, more people will return to the office, but there will be a lot more flexibility. We have to be agile as an organization. That was true even before the pandemic, but this crisis made clear that you have to be flexible as an organization.” In the future, the vast majority of the hospice’s employees will for sure be laptop-based; right now, it’s about 50-50 in terms of laptops and desktops.
In the end, St. Margaret’s hospice believes Awingu is a straightforward, secure, cost-efficient, and capable solution to give internal and external people secure access to their system. With security features like built-in MFA and auditing capabilities, they are very eager to use the solution to make remote working possible in the hospice. Like their partner Emerge Cyber Security, they are delighted with the commercial and technical support they received from Awingu and will continue using the digital workspace to allow remote access.
Curious about how other companies in the healthcare industry use Awingu? Learn more!