Five years ago, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust launched Healthy Places NC, a decade-long initiative to invest in 10 to 12 rural counties around the state. The place-based initiative would require Trust staff to spend a great deal of time in the community, listening and learning to residents about what their area needed to be healthier. Part of the success of Healthy Places NC relied heavily on the staff immersion and community integration that could only be accomplished by updating their IT Operations and moving into an Azure Cloud Services-based environment. Not only is the Trust having a significant impact in North Carolina, but the organization also is becoming a model for other organizations nationwide.
People living in urban Wake County have a life expectancy of 81 years, yet people living in rural Beaufort County not far away can only expect to live until 76. Research shows that poor health outcomes are tied to poverty, and many of North Carolina’s rural communities are struggling. The Trust launched Healthy Places NC to invest in some of the state’s communities with the greatest need.
Healthy Places NC is a place-based grant program that focuses on working closely with specific communities to drive change. Healthy Places NC is more than a mission to improve health – it is a change in the way a community comes together to build on assets and tackle challenges. It is understanding the impact of social factors such as poverty and unemployment on health and developing a community-based infrastructure to tackle health-related issues.
Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust understood the importance of community interaction and presence that would be necessary to make Healthy Places NC successful.
Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust understood the issues associated with place-based philanthropy and was willing and ready to meet these challenges to become an integrated part of these communities. Immersion in and changes to the work environments was just the beginning of the internal challenges. The organization needed to change from a primarily onsite work environment to a flexible, multi-site environment offering the mobility necessary to interact with the communities involved in the program.
The primary line of business software, a grants management program, was key to the success of the program. Employees needed anywhere access to this software but the limitations faced with the onsite server and remote connection made this almost impossible.
The current VPN environment was unreliable and the grants management software was not designed to work in a VPN environment. Therefore, employees who could successfully log into the onsite server struggled with slow connection speeds, dropped connections, and sluggish performance from the grants management software.
Aging equipment was also an issue, not only for performance but also in effective budgeting. The onsite servers were out of warranty and at a high risk of failure. Planning for a hardware upgrade that was not ideal for the organization was a difficult budgeting hurdle.
Solace proposed an Azure remote desktop solution that would house all servers and include a Domain Controller, Remote Desktop Gateway Server, two Remote Desktop Session Hosts, and a SQL Server that runs the grant management application. For the SQL server, Solace proposed premium (SSD) storage for faster SQL queries. Solace proposed implementing Azure AD Connect from the Azure environment to KBR’s existing Office 365. Solace also proposed joining all existing local windows computers running Windows 10 to Azure AD.
Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has seen greater reliability and accessibility with the move to Azure. The increased capacity has allowed for the organization to plan new ways of leveraging their systems in ways that were not possible with the prior solution. Data is more secure and staff members’ profiles are always secured and easily accessed from any machine, inside or outside the organization. The grant management software is now performing faster and more efficiently than the previous on-premise solution.
And most importantly, the new environment has allowed Healthy Places NC to grow, benefiting many rural residents of North Carolina. With the help of Healthy Places NC, local convenience stores and small neighborhood stores now offer healthy foods, while other counties have expanded transportation services removing transportation barriers. Health centers have been created to address health concerns, and other communities have initiated the Nurse-Family Partnership that gives support to first-time moms. Through facilitated collaborative planning and implementation processes made possible by the Azure environment, Healthy Places NC has and will continue to address many concerns that face rural areas of North Carolina.