Establishing consistent digital experiences across national operations in the Netherlands
One of the largest care service providers in the Netherlands, 's Heeren Loo, helps people with disabilities lead independent, fulfilling lives.
Location: Amersfoort, Netherlands
Size: 16,000 employees
With a simple aim to ensure the best possible quality of life for people with disabilities, 's Heeren Loo (sHL) is a key component of the Dutch healthcare system. It is a leader in critical care for people with intellectual disabilities, and it helps people young and old with intellectual and other needs across the country to live how they want with people who are important to them.
Drawing on over 130 years of knowledge and practical experience combined with the latest scientific research and innovations, sHL's mission is to help people move forward. This is, however, a highly intensive process: 16,000 sHL employees provide care for 14,000 clients.
Wherever possible, sHL wants to treat clients in their home environment. It also manages 800 care facilities and homes throughout the Netherlands, ranging from six-room apartment blocks to village-like campuses housing 200 to more than 600 clients. It is complex work, involving the coordination of clinicians, psychologists, caseworkers, volunteers, and the wider healthcare system.
"There has been a shift towards care in a community setting, but we also need to provide residential care," explains Guido van Baal, information manager, IT infrastructure, at sHL. "It means we have a varied, constantly changing estate."
The sHL real estate team manages around 1000 properties throughout the country. Sustainability, in addition to suitability for clients, plays an important role in new facilities and across its network.
sHL recognizes that digital solutions will transform healthcare delivery, providing touchpoints to enable the remote monitoring of smart homes. This will improve both client safety and productivity; the more efficient sHL becomes, the better it can support its hard-working teams and the more people it can treat. However, sHL needs first to establish a consistent network infrastructure for digital transformation to take place.
"We need to put the network foundations in first," says van Baal. "As we deliver standardized care, we also need a standardized approach to the network."
"This is the first step in the journey," he adds. The goal is for sHL to be better able to explore innovation in the healthcare sector. "In providing care for our clients, we need a solid and simple network infrastructure that is available to those who need it and flexible for introducing new concepts that can take us further," says van Baal. "We want to actively test new ideas."
“In providing care for our clients, we need a solid and simple network infrastructure that is available to those who need it and flexible for actively testing new concepts that can take us further. The engagement with Cisco enables us to look at new ideas in a controlled environment.”Guido van Baal, Information Manager, IT Infrastructure
sHL's future network is being built on a secure, integrated cloud network infrastructure based on Cisco Meraki and Axians Network as a Service (NaaS). It creates a consistent, LAN, WAN, and wireless LAN (WLAN) based on standardized components, managed centrally using one dashboard.
Long term, this establishes a roadmap to Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), giving users across all applications a consistent experience by uniting networking and security in the cloud.
"The Cisco/Axians approach is a significant change for the business. It means we see infrastructure as our connectivity backbone, based on state-of-the-art and fit-for-purpose solutions, in service to the business. We're less tied to the technology, and more focused on the business outcomes. Technology is not the core focus of the organization; that is providing care," says van Baal.
"This cultural shift," he continues, "was helped by bringing Cisco to the table alongside sHL senior management. Other vendors tended to focus on the technology; Cisco was able to elevate the conversation and share its expertise of the local and global healthcare industry."
The Cisco proposal included a proof of concept at sHL's Apeldoorn location, testing the Cisco Meraki cloud management platform and a host of different applications and device connections. Axians then helped create templates for three sizes of sHL care locations. The templates allow for a degree of flexibility, which means sHL doesn't need to redesign a network for each location.
sHL will first test a specific location, with Axians support on site, before rolling out across all formats. "We aim to have the rollout complete by the end of 2023," says van Baal.
The first major location was successfully migrated to Cisco Meraki software-defined WAN in October 2022. Thorough planning and project management by Axians was combined with other suppliers' solutions to contribute to the continuity of care, such as care home automation, critical alarms, workplace applications, and building equipment.
sHL also committed to a Cisco Enterprise Agreement (EA), bringing further clarity to its network strategy and providing transparency around pricing and cost predictability as the business and its network expand. "Once we committed to Cisco, the EA made practical financial sense," van Baal says. "License clarity in line with the roll-out schedules, efficiency for our procurement team, flexibility for growth, change scenarios, and predictability on the financial impact are just a few of the benefits."
The network templates help to ensure the rollout will go ahead quickly and smoothly. sHL is clear what components are needed for each location; cloud management means little onsite expertise is needed. Standardized components mean standardized support.
"We now have the fundamentals in place from which to scale," says van Baal. "It ensures we have a standard level of consistent service—for end points and for users—in every location."
This means digital touchpoints, whether tablets, environmental sensors, smart cameras, or location tags, work consistently in all sHL locations. Moreover, sHL can manage and support the network centrally, creating new levels of efficiency.
From a business perspective, this approach also allows sHL to quickly integrate new acquisitions. sHL is one of the largest care providers in the Netherlands, and opportunities to absorb smaller organizations are likely. Cisco Meraki means only an internet connection is needed to bring the new location online. The Cisco Enterprise Agreement enables sHL to price the cost of a network upgrade.
Cisco's Country Digital Acceleration program has helped to maintain sHL's position at the forefront of the healthcare industry from a technological perspective. And while it is too early to make accurate statements on cost savings, van Baal says the business case shows a prospective total cost of ownership savings of 25 percent as a result of a small set of standardized network profiles to match the need of each location, versus the previous disjointed approach. This removed complexity and eased the delivery process, removing waste through the whole value chain.
More immediately, with the foundations in place, sHL can begin to explore new overlay technology. It has selected three "test" locations to act as testing environments, where it will work with Cisco and Axians on future-oriented living for its clients. Service innovation will maintain sHL's position at the forefront of the healthcare sector.
It is here that Cisco's global expertise in the smart building and healthcare sectors, plus its links to third-party developers, will be most valuable. "The hope," says van Baal, "is that the relationship will open doors to the latest in healthcare technology. It should also encourage sHL care teams to find and suggest their own digital ideas."
"There is a huge desire to understand how digital transformation can create value for our clients, but we have to find use cases that scale," van Baal points out. "The 'test' locations, and the engagement with Cisco, will enable us to look at new ideas in a controlled environment. Cisco's experience is pragmatic but also inspirational."
In choosing Cisco Meraki and Axians as partners, sHL is highlighting its commitment to sustainability. Existing infrastructure is being reused or recycled, and new equipment is received in packaging with minimal carbon footprints.
The new Meraki infrastructure's low power consumption enables sHL to meet energy-saving targets, while other built-in features enable further reductions. These measures not only positively impact sHL's sustainability initiatives, but they also reduce total cost of ownership.
"Our traditional ways of sourcing gave us standard solutions and services," says van Baal. "Changing the process by having Cisco at the table as a technology partner opened our eyes. Cisco and Axians were focused, challenged sHL, and contributed value throughout the process."