How Housing Works, A Healing Community of People Living with and Affected by HIV/AIDS, is Improving Outcomes with Cloud-Hosted Technology
Housing Works fights for funding and legislation to ensure that all people living with HIV/AIDS have access to quality housing, healthcare, HIV prevention, and treatment, among other lifesaving services.
HSO has had a long association with Housing Works, beginning in 2015. Since then, we’ve worked together on several successful initiatives. This Success Story is actually three stories: Bringing outsourced financials and billing in house, moving their data from on-premises to the cloud, and dealing with a global pandemic along the way.
Challenge #1: Bring financials and medical billing in house
Since 1990, Housing Works has provided comprehensive services to over 30,000 homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS or at-risk of infection. An organization offering an array of services—from housing and healthcare to job training and legal assistance—depends on technology to keep these critical efforts moving forward.
Housing Works encountered the first challenge in 2015, in the area of financials. As an organization with a broad array of services that support the mission, they also deal with several revenue streams.
They were utilizing Microsoft Dynamics GP for financial management, with accounting as well as medical billing (managed in another system) being hosted by an outside partner. There were issues with this arrangement, so Housing Works brought medical billing and eventually accounting in house. Deciding to stay with GP, they began looking for a new partner and selected HSO (then AKA Enterprise Solutions, which was acquired by HSO in 2020), a GP Partner since 1989, to implement GP internally and help make the move.
At the same time, the decision was made to change the grant accounting process, which required the purchase and integration of analytical accounting and accounts payable software. In short, the implementation required some complex work, which the HSO team was successful in completing.
“They were very hands-on,” said Lasha Shalamberidze, Director of Finance for Housing Works. “They were very easy to talk to and paid so much attention to us. They really did understand our accounting. And the communication was seamless. That’s why we chose to go with them.”
Jolanta Ilczuk, CFO of Housing Works, added, “We are delighted with the support we got from AKA at that time, and now it continues on with HSO.”
Since then, Housing Works has been operating smoothly with the new solution including GP on-premises…until 2019.
Challenge #2: Modernize critical infrastructure that was unable to scale
As Housing Works grew and acquired other organizations, they were suddenly hosting 60 servers on premises and two large data systems, one of which had grown even more with the addition of medical billing. The result was an infrastructure that could not keep up, which impacted performance and uptime. With so many employees depending on the system, downtime of only a few minutes here and there could add up very quickly.
“We have our own data warehouse,” said Chanchal Gandhwani, Vice President for Data and Software Applications for Housing Works. “We have many locations, and the lifeline of Housing Works is our data system. Because our infrastructure was not designed to scale at that level when we brought processes in house and changed other processes many years ago, it was not sustainable.”
Sometime earlier, they attempted to address the issues by outsourcing all IT functions to another firm. However, there were many issues with that solution, and Housing Works had also decided they no longer wanted to continue trying to stay current on their own hardware, so they decided to migrate their data to the cloud—and put out an RFP to find a partner to help.
After reviewing responses, Chanchal and the team narrowed the field down to three, one of which was HSO (then AKA). While all three offered very similar pricing, HSO stood out in two key ways, as explained by Gandhwani:
“HSO was ready to come into our premises. They were willing to do pre-scanning and pre-finding without even having a contract in place because they wanted to understand more before committing or asking us to commit. HSO was fine with first just providing us with a report of what was wrong and what could and could not be done. They came to our office for, I think, two days, and scanned our network, then provided a report and then a proposal to move everything from our on-premises to cloud servers.”
Second, Jolanta and Lasha had very positive things to say regarding previous and current engagements—and the relationship that had been established.
“Jolanta and Lasha gave us very, very good feedback,” Chanchal continued, “so we felt confident we were selecting the right partner.”
HSO began work on delivering a viable, cost-effective solution by moving the infrastructure to Microsoft Azure in a multi-phased approach. The first phase would involve moving the business-critical systems including GP, migrating the data center and providing hybrid network connectivity. This would eliminate all on-premises infrastructure and applications so Housing Works could operate 100 percent in the cloud.
Challenge #3: The COVID pandemic
There isn’t an individual or organization anywhere in the world that wasn’t presented with an unexpected challenge due to the COVID pandemic. Housing Works was no exception.
The migration project was still in the planning stages when the COVID pandemic shut businesses down in 2020. This meant that the HSO and Housing Works teams had to pivot quickly and accelerate the schedule from six months to two weeks.
As Chanchal explained, “When the pandemic hit, our infrastructure was nowhere near ready for our staff to work remotely. But we had to do it. So, we worked day and night with HSO to accelerate the project and moved everything from our local infrastructure to the cloud. We completed a months-long project in a matter of weeks.”
The result: An infrastructure with scalability, flexibility, and security.
By migrating to the Azure cloud, Housing Works now has:
- A secure, scalable system in which servers and storage can be quickly resized and requires them to pay only for what they need
- 24/7 high availability
- A cloud environment that is fully integrated with on-premises systems for a seamless user experience
- A GP application that always stays up to date
- Data safety and security, taken care of by Microsoft and taking the burden off the Housing Works staff
- Everywhere availability, enabling employees to work from any location
With their cloud environment fully integrated with their other on-premises systems, they maintain a seamless user experience, which has delivered big benefits.
“The system is helping us to have efficiency and productivity in our business,” said Lasha. “I can’t say enough good things.”
“We did not have any problems,” said Jolanta. “Obviously, it was very complicated, but those guys knew what to do. I went through several other transitions in the past, and this was the best transition I ever went through.”
With a strong, trusted relationship and multiple successes, HSO continues to work with Housing Works to accommodate their continued growth and help more people in need.
- Join us for a live webinar series: Non-Profit by the Numbers – Using Data for More Effective Fundraising & Member Recruitment
- Watch the video: How Commit Partnership Provides Crucial, Evidence-Based Data to Impact Legislation and Funding with HSO, Microsoft, and DataKind
- Read the blog: Enabling Non-Profits Through Technology – Why We’re Part of Microsoft’s #Buildfor2030 Sustainability Initiative