With limited resources for IT hardware and software, the Tzu Chi Foundation in Malaysia used a mix of open source and proprietary software for its servers and desktops. To improve IT support, ease of use, and in-house IT development, Tzu Chi
standardised its IT systems using Windows Server 2008 R2 and the Microsoft Office productivity suite. Now, Tzu Chi develops in-house tools that IT staff can easily support. Staff work more efficiently, and public requests for help are answered faster.
The international charitable foundation, Tzu Chi, opened its first branch in Malaysia in 1992, and is now the country’s largest non-governmental organisation (NGO). Based in Penang, Tzu Chi Malaysia, employs 200 permanent staff, who—with 20,000 volunteers—deliver
a wide range of humanitarian, medical, educational and welfare programs. These include free clinics staffed by volunteer doctors.
Tzu Chi needs to ensure that almost every donated dollar is spent on aid programs. As a result, investment in IT is restricted. By 2012 Tzu Chi used a very wide mix of proprietary and open source software technologies.
“We used Linux for file, web and database services, and a wide mix of Windows operating systems for our desktops,” says Sio Kee Hong, Director and Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Tzu Chi. “Most of our permanent staff used OpenOffice for documents, and a
variety of free web email services, such as Yahoo and Gmail.”
Tzu Chi documents were often produced in incompatible formats, sometimes because staff created them using old versions of desktop applications. This slowed down collaboration with volunteers. And with no central domain controller, staff could not easily
move from one desktop to another. The result was slow response times. Staff sometimes took up to three hours to assist members of the public when they rang seeking urgent assistance or information.
IT staff struggled to support their colleagues on the ground. With multiple versions of applications on different operating systems, updates and patches were hard to maintain. “We also struggled to upgrade our Linux platform,” says Mr. Sio. “This was partly
because of the potential impact on tools we developed in-house; partly because Linux skills can be hard to find.”
Looking to the future, Mr. Sio wanted his IT staff to build a new donor-management system, but the mixed technology environment made her cautious: “We wanted to build a database system to track all donations. We didn’t want to build the new tool on a Linux
platform, however, because we would struggle to find the right combination of IT skills to support it.
“We wanted to standardise our IT infrastructure, because it would make so many things easier: maintenance, procurement, expansion and automation,” says Mr. Sio. “Just doing something as simple as using the same tools would save us time, improve efficiency,
and make our infrastructure easier to support.”
In early 2013, Tzu Chi took advantage of software donations for charitable organisations, and standardised its entire infrastructure on an up-to-date Microsoft stack. “We chose Microsoft because all our permanent staff are familiar with Microsoft products,
and the products are supported by Microsoft,” says Mr. Sio. “Also, IT specialists with Microsoft skills are relatively easy to find. This is essential if we want to improve reliability, and build and integrate tools ourselves.”
First, Tzu Chi deployed Microsoft Active Directory. This enabled IT staff to centrally maintain user identification, security and permissions, and allowed staff to log on to any desktop. Next, Tzu Chi virtualized their infrastructure using Windows Server
2008 R2 with Hyper-V. “This provided a single, efficient platform for our file, web and database services,” says Mr. Sio.
The next step involved creating a uniform desktop environment for all 200 permanent staff. Tzu Chi deployed the Windows 7 operating system on all desktops, then installed Microsoft Office 2010. With a standardised operating system and server platform, IT
staff completed the roll-out quickly: “Setting this up was straightforward, and the deployment was easy,” says Mr. Sio.
With a standardised stack, Tzu Chi can provide permanent staff with up-to-date applications that are easy to use and easy to support. As a result, staff work more productively, and provide help more quickly to people seeking assistance.
A standardised IT environment
By standardising their infrastructure,
Tzu Chi makes multiple efficiency savings. “Standardisation helps us save time in many areas: business management, information gathering, IT maintenance and IT security. Indirectly, these time savings also save us money.”
Standardisation also improves flexibility. Now, IT staff can start work on in-house solutions, using their preferred combination of .NET on the Windows platform. “We can embark on a new donor-management system with confidence, because we know we can deploy
it, and find the skills to maintain it,” says Mr. Sio.
More effective technical support
Now, IT staff provide an improved service to their colleagues on the ground, deploying new applications faster and supporting them more effectively.
Ease of use and increased productivity
“When IT staff receive support requests now, they don’t have to ask lots of diagnostic questions before providing help,” says Mr. Sio. “Applications are easier to test and run, and with only one set of patches to apply, we have tightened security. Our IT staff
now focus on enhancing our organisation’s capabilities.”
According to Mr. Sio, Tzu Chi staff reacted very positively to their new IT. “We found everyone adapted very quickly, and I observe that everyone gets their work done more quickly,” he says.
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“We used to hunt for information when members of the public called and asked for help,” he adds. “Sometimes this took three hours. Since we standardised on the Microsoft suite of solutions, we work faster. Now we typically respond within the hour. Greater efficiency
means we provide much better services to the community.”