Save the Children is one of the world’s largest international not-for-profit organisations and has operated in Australia since 1919 helping children in need with safety, support and education across the continent – from major urban centres to rural and remote communities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Save the Children Australia faced multiple obstacles in its efforts to keep delivering support across its urban and regional refuges.
“We’ve always had an element of our team out there working in the field,” says Ryan Kurtz, Head of Service Delivery at Save the Children Australia. “So there was always a need to be able to work remotely. But this is the first time the entire organisation has had to shift in that way.”
Providing protection and support to children is a complex challenge in the modern world. While the common tasks of offering food and shelter haven’t changed much, ensuring a child receives the best possible education and support for a happy childhood means overcoming the ever-widening digital divide.
“If you look at the stresses in some of the most underprivileged families that we work with, to not be connected and not be able to see them is a significant issue,” says Adrian Stagg, Save the Children Australia’s CIO. “The ability to stay connected with them was critical.”
Save the Children Australia was in the midst of a transition to using Microsoft Teams across its organisation nationally when the pandemic struck.
“We had to ramp up quickly because we were basically midstream,” says Kurtz. “A large portion of users were still using traditional file stores, so we very quickly moved users to SharePoint online. That gave people the versatility to operate from tablets, laptops or mobile, from wherever they needed to.”
Kurtz emphasises that the organisation’s IT strategy was already heading in the direction of allowing staff to work from anywhere, on any device, securely.
“This is the one idea we’ve been able to build everything around,” says Kurtz. “It wasn’t COVID that set us on that path, we were on it from two years prior. We just needed to push a little harder to get it over the line.”
While the internal systems were being improved to support more mobility, ensuring clients in need also had ongoing internet access was another critical problem. Through its partnership with Telstra, Save the Children Australia supplied these families with mobile devices to ensure they never lost touch.
“We had a large number of families staying in refuge centres, with many school-aged children that we had to connect at really short notice,” says Kurtz. “Telstra provided us a bunch of smartphones at no cost. We sent those out within two weeks to staff in the field so they could use them to stay connected with families.”
Along with hundreds of other devices in use across the Save the Children Australia team, the new mobile services were managed through a unified Telstra Corporate Mobile Plus plan.
The plan includes a large shared data pool, which gives organisations more flexibility in managing users’ data allowances. It includes tools to help manage devices across the team, with built-in security and device management, and Telstra Calling for Microsoft Office 365 ensures field workers can maintain regular check-ins and service delivery from any device, at any time it is needed.
“The Telstra calling environment hasn’t missed a beat,” says Stagg. “Everybody is in [Microsoft] Teams and the collaboration has just been phenomenal. We very quickly became a fully digital remote operation – we just had to ensure security was firmly in place around that.”
Protecting people, protecting data
Save the Children Australia has always placed privacy and security as top priorities when managing people’s records, such as health information. Maintaining strict privacy and security is vital in all cases, especially when dealing with families and children fleeing situations of domestic abuse.
Every new mobile device was patched, updated and managed through Save the Children’s device management platform before being deployed in the field.
“When they were in the hands of either our staff or our clients we were comfortable they were as safe as possible,” explains Kurtz.
Stagg points out the organisation’s decision to pursue advanced security solutions with the help of Telstra meant they avoided having to mandate VPN software, which could have been difficult for users.
Instead, having chosen cloud solutions that suited the organisation’s needs, Stagg saw that Save the Children Australia could embed security in the network while maintaining a seamless experience for staff and clients. The organisation implemented an SD-WAN solution and Telstra Programmable Network technology to deliver what Stagg describes as a “seamless, invisible approach for everybody”.
“We focused on having all our resources sitting in Azure and pushing everybody through multi-factor authentication so they didn’t have to rely on a constrained VPN,” explains Stagg. “The network Telstra built for us certainly has been unlike anything we’ve seen -- and we can interconnect like never before.
“Whether they’re in a region or a capital city, everyone has the same user experience just like we’ve always had at head office. “I could never have envisaged that I didn’t have to support different ways of people connecting to get access to the solutions they need.”
One supplier removes complexity from problem solving
Stagg believes the whole-of-business contract with Telstra offers great benefits for Save the Children Australia, including a significantly reduced management load when dealing with suppliers, compared to past arrangements.
“We don’t have time for having 30 different providers delivering our solutions,” says Stagg. “We went into this with a vision to bring our telecommunications technology platforms into a single paradigm: network connectivity, security, penetration testing, you name it. We went down this path to consolidate to a single provider that could perform all of that.”
Stagg recommends organisations on their own journeys toward a better-integrated wide-area network experience start with a clear vision of what the technology needs to help the organisation achieve.
“Everybody in the room at the very beginning needs to understand what the endgame is,” he says. “No matter how rocky the road might get on the way, knowing the endgame is critical. If you’re going in saying ‘oh, I’m doing this to reduce costs’ you’re making a mistake. You need the vision for what you want, and you need to hold that vision for the pillars of the services you’re after, then stick to your guns and get the right people involved.
“We are now freed up from the plumbing, and we’ve got the technology, services and provider in place we can trust. We wanted an endgame that enables us to focus on our frontline people and give back to the most vulnerable people in communities.”