MeanderGroep outsources network management to Open Line

MeanderGroep in South Limburg provides care at every stage of life; from birth care to nursing home care and everything in between. The organisation has a total of 40 locations, from large residential care sites to small sites for outreach teams. As all these locations are increasingly dependent on their network, MeanderGroep has decided to outsource its network management to Open Line.

Danny Kokol, I&A staff director, explains: “In the past, MeanderGroep used to manage almost all ICT itself. However, as ICT is playing an increasingly important role, not only in our offices but especially in healthcare, it is becoming increasingly important that systems are always available. Take, for example, home automation. You can equip a residential care facility with as many sensors as you like, but if the network is not reliable and the signals do not reach the care workers, you create a false sense of security. As ICT systems are becoming increasingly complex and highly skilled staff are scarce, I wrote a new strategy plan for I&A when I started here in 2020 with the main focus being that we ourselves become a IT-management organisation. Our dependence on ICT is simply becoming too great to continue doing it all ourselves.” 

Network developed historically 

To make ICT easier to outsource, it is necessary to standardise and homogenise. One of the areas in which this applies is the network. Remy van der Wal, service desk coordinator and network manager at MeanderGroep, can only agree. “We have 40 locations. The LAN has grown and expanded over time according to the needs at a location. As needs are different everywhere, those networks are all different too. That’s simply the way things have developed historically.” 

Kokol sees the risk posed by the situation: “There is no one in our organisation who knows the situation at all our offices and residential care locations as well as Remy does. This is a risk, of course, because if Remy falls ill or is on holiday and we have a major network failure, we have to wait and see if other colleagues at ICT can fix it. In the past, we could afford to do that, because back then ICT was hardly used in our primary process. Nowadays, things are different however.” 

Moreover, very crucial communication also goes via LAN today, says Van der Wal. “Ten years ago, it was quite normal to have a separate network for a voice-listening connection or home automation, for example. Today, all this goes over the same IP network as the rest of the communication, with no hierarchy involved. If a resident, who wants FaceTime with family, has no network connection for a brief period that is annoying, but if care alarms don’t get through, that could even be life-threatening.” 

Partner in innovation 

For this reason, MeanderGroep decided to look for a managed services partner who could take over the network management and support the organisation in future innovations. Kokol and Van der Wal entered into discussions with three providers. Open Line really stood out, according to Van der Wal. “We have been purchasing hosting services from Open Line for a long time, so we know the company and know they are fair and critical. If something cannot be done or is not advisable, Open Line will always say so.” That honesty was already reflected in the first exploratory meeting, says Kokol. “We asked the service providers for a complete as-a-service solution, i.e. not only purchasing management as a service from our partner, but also all network components. Open Line advised against that.” 

Ralph Evertz, Account Executive at Open Line, explains why. “Network components have quite long depreciation periods. These have only lengthened in recent years because hardware has become ‘dumb’ and the intelligence is in software. You can upgrade that software without replacing the hardware. Many components in the current network are far from being depreciated. For the components that do need replacing, it is far cheaper for MeanderGroep to invest upfront in the network equipment itself in the long term due to those long depreciation periods than to purchase it as a service, especially as you don't need to be able to scale a network up or down very flexibly. Moreover, if you own the network equipment, you are much more flexible as a client to switch managed services providers than if you buy the network as-a-service. After all, that would mean that your provider would also remove all network equipment upon termination of the contract. That is of course an undesirable situation.” 

Homogenising and standardising 

Open Line is acquiring the Cisco network as-is. This means that the partnership between Van der Wal and Open Line – particularly in the initial period – will be very intensive. “Our current network is not yet optimised”, says Van der Wal. “As we have so many different locations and just as many different situations, it will take a while for Open Line to become as familiar with them as we are. However, my role will become increasingly smaller as the network is homogenised and standardised in the future.” 

Open Line will continue to innovate on the current Cisco network. Evertz: “In this respect, we have the same outlook as MeanderGroep: by choosing an A-brand provider, you may pay a little more for the equipment, but you will recoup those investments because the network is much more reliable and stable and the depreciation periods are longer. Moreover, Cisco is a very innovative party. By choosing this brand, we are ensuring that we can continue to develop. Finally, security at Cisco is very well embedded.” 

I&A strategy as a guideline

In that continued development, the I&A strategy will be leading. Kokol: “We have formulated a very clear but practical strategy. It is a document that really provides direction and makes it easy to assess with every new development: does this fit into our strategy or not? The strategy gives us tools to determine what we will and will not invest in.” 

This is important, because the LAN has become so business-critical and the possibilities offered by the network so great, that you have to properly define what you do and do not want. “For example, do we want clients to watch TV via the same network that caregivers use to double-check whether they are giving the right medication to the right resident while on their medication rounds? How are we going to separate these critical and less critical lines of communication? That is where the strategy document provides guidance.”

Critical attitude 

Both men are pleased that in all such decisions they now have a critical partner to challenge them. Kokol: “The complexity these days is so great that we cannot oversee everything. That is why I very much welcome Open Line’s critical stance. They give solicited, but more importantly, unsolicited advice. They will never go along with our idea if they are not convinced by it. That is very good to know. It creates trust.” 

Evertz is aware that MeanderGroep will also take note of his advice. “Clients occasionally also ask us to be critical. But when all is said and done, they still ignore our advice. Fortunately, that's not the case at MeanderGroep. They listen to our advice.” 

The discussions can be quite tough at times, says Kokol. “But we always manage to work it out together and the final solution is always better than it would be if one of us bows too easily to the other. No shine without friction. That you can nevertheless work well together despite that friction is pretty extraordinary. That is what makes Open Line a unique partner.” ”