AccertaClaim ServiceCorp. is an Ontario-based healthcare benefits service provider and claims management specialist who has seen a 60-per-cent increase in the number of claims processed over the past five years. When Accerta moved to a larger office space following its growth spurt, the company also took advantage of the opportunity to update its IT environment. With the help of Microsoft® Gold Certified partner InFront Consulting, Accerta gracefully transitioned to a Hyper-V™ private cloud solution. The move ensures scalability, security and a strong competitive outlook for Accerta’s evolving business and IT needs, meaning the company can easily grow on its own schedule and plan for its future. Upgraded Microsoft software, including Windows® 7, Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Exchange 2010, also means better collaboration and communication between Accerta employees.Situation
AccertaClaim Servicorp Inc. has been experiencing some growing pains in recent years.
The Ontario-based healthcare benefits service provider and claims management specialist had been operating under its parent company, the Ontario Dental Association (ODA), since 2002, sharing an office space, a technology environment and IT support.
But as Accerta grew – the company has gone from processing about 500,000 claims annually in 2005 to nearly 800,000 last year, a 60-per-cent jump – it was clear the company needed to strike out on its own.
Accerta currently provides third-party benefits management to more than 400 clients.
“Our needs were growing quickly because our business was expanding much fast,” says Sandie Fick, Accerta’s Director of Claims, Administration and Information Technology. “Our parent deals largely with association members, so they don’t have the same business needs as what we have.”
When Accerta’s system needs changed in 2007, the company reached out to Infront Consulting Group, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, for help in establishing a new technology environment.
By leveraging Infront’s large enterprise expertise, Accerta was able to gracefully transition its own IT infrastructure while handing off the day-to-day IT administration to Infront, says Rory McCaw, the firm’s Managing Principal Consultant. This allowed Accerta to balance its limited IT budget with its growing IT requirements.
But four years later, in the fall of 2010, Accerta’s growing pains hadn’t stopped.
With more staff processing more claims, Accerta needed room to grow and was seeking its own office space away from the ODA. More importantly, Accerta was concerned that its technology couldn’t keep up in an increasingly demanding business environment.
“Everything we do, of course, is dependent on our technology,” says Fick, adding that the company’s 29 employees process an average of 3,000 claims per day. “As soon as you say you can’t do something when it’s simply a technology fix, then you’re out of business. If you don’t have the latest technology capability in our industry, people don’t take you seriously.”
In previous years, Accerta had built in-house administration systems. But if those “critical” systems ever went down, Fick says she had people sitting around doing nothing, leading to customer frustration.
Accerta again sought advice from Infront, who suggested the company virtualize their servers in a private cloud and upgrade their software as a simple way to deal with their now-continuous growing pains while allowing them to keep ahead of the competition.
||With the servers and the virtualization, it’s just good to know that we had a solution proposed that will take us into the future … I think the Hyper-V solution will suit and fit right into our future plans.
Director of Claims, Administration & Information Technology, AccertaClaim Servicorp Inc.
When Accerta moved offices – just a short, 10-minute walk from the ODA site – the company left the bulk behind.
The company migrated two of its physical servers to Infront’s data centre, while five others running Windows Server® 2008 R2 are now hosted in a Hyper-V™ private cloud.
The company also upgraded its software, putting Windows® 7 and Microsoft Office 2010 on each employee’s machine, instead of the piecemeal versions scattered across the Accerta family before. Staff is also equipped with Microsoft Exchange 2010 and SharePoint® 2010.
“The solution to virtualize was simple: It just made sense and it provides for simpler management and better availability,” says McCaw.
“It also reduces the number of physical servers required to achieve the same result as before with only minimal investment in more physical memory. And better supportability was achieved through the implementation of Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager and Data Protection Manager for recovery.”
Fick says the transition process, which took place over three months earlier this year, was seamless for both Accerta employees and clients; both groups didn’t even notice a change had taken place.
And the Infront team went out of its way to do the work on evenings and weekends to avoid client disruptions.
As for the growing pains, Fick no longer worries. She knows there’s plenty of space in Accerta’s private cloud.
“I have no hesitation now saying we can’t add more business because I no longer have any excuse,” she says. “I can’t say ‘I don’t have the space’ or ‘oh dear, I’m going to have to go out and buy another server first.’ We know that we can always serve our clients, no matter how much we grow.” Benefits
Now a technology leader in their industry, Accerta is using Hyper-V to allow for growth and to ensure that any future business needs are met.
The upgraded Microsoft software also allows for better collaboration, quicker sharing and easier communication between the company’s employee base.
Scalability for growing business and IT needs
Preparing for the company’s longer term development was the driving force behind Accerta’s decision to switch to the Hyper-V private cloud solution.
Fick says Accerta has concrete growth goals in mind and are already putting the wheels in motion on some business plans.
As the need for additional capacity amps up, Infront’s McCaw says the provisioning of additional servers is now within “the click of a mouse” as opposed to the two-to-four weeks of downtime needed for physical servers, which must be ordered, shipped and built.
And Infront can also “significantly” reduce the amount of time and costs associated with server-provisioning, McCaw says, since his team can scale the system based on Accerta’s specifications. “Everything that we are doing helps to improve the performance and availability of the systems.”
Fick describes the Hyper-V solution as a way to control the “peaks and valleys” of Accerta’s day-to-day operations.
“Most of our business is done within five days a week, eight hours a day. And it’s heavily set at a particular time: It starts escalating on Monday morning, peaks on Wednesday and starts to decline toward Friday,” she explains.
“You have to be able to handle those peaks without designing your systems to just handle the highest peak because then you have wasted facilities that you’re not using during the valleys. Virtualization helps to smooth out that line.”
Fick is also looking forward to cost-savings down the road.
In addition to the expedited provisioning of extra servers permitting Accerta to say “yes” to new business, saving them time and money in planning stages, virtualization allows for lower storage costs with less physical servers – part of a smaller “server footprint” that also leads to lower electricity bills.
“With the servers and the virtualization, it’s just good to know that we had a solution proposed that will take us into the future. Our business is going to grow and we are going to need to change things,” says Fick. “I think (the Hyper-V solution) will suit and fit right into our future plans.”
And she adds, laughing: “I know it’s going to impress our board of directors that we went to the cloud because one of them is always talking about … how it’s the way of the future.”
Security and streamlining for dealing with sensitive information
When it came time for Accerta to virtualize, the company was comfortable with the Microsoft solutions they’d been using to date and opted for the Hyper-V solution.
McCaw says adding a new vendor to the mix would’ve also created an extra and unnecessary layer at an additional cost, which would have complicated the highly streamlined approach Infront was taking to manage the system.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a streamlined solution that provided end-to-end management and monitoring, which is what we were able to achieve by looking at the entire System Centre suite,” McCaw says. “The infrastructure is now monitored, allowing Infront to be proactively alerted to potential issues, both hardware- and software-related, that could affect performance and availability.”
Accerta also knew they wanted a private cloud as opposed to a public, where they could maybe take advantage of economies of scale, because of the sensitive information the company deals with daily.
“We deal in health benefits and the information we maintain is subject to so many laws. I couldn’t have any risk of a security violation,” says Fick.
McCaw says a well-architected cloud solution can be more secure that a physical or non-virtualized one. “Security, for the most part, comes down to knowledge of how things work and making sure you’ve closed doors behind you that need to be closed.”
Since the Infront team is dealing with Accerta’s IT needs, the company is confident their documents and files are safe in the hands of professionals.
Infront had consolidated Accerta’s multiple server roles on two clustered hosts to provide better availability. If one of the physical hosts had to go down, then the virtual machine would fail-over from Host 1 to Host 2 and vice versa.
Fick says that continued connectivity is “really important from a business continuation point of view,” and she’s certain Accerta has moved toward a more stable technology environment.
If a file is accidentally lost or deleted as a result of human error – the simple misclick of an employee’s mouse, for example – Microsoft’s 2010 Data Protection Manager allows for faster restore time with a quick call to Infront.
Employees also benefit from the software upgrades since each Accerta computer is now running Windows 7, Office 2010 and Outlook 2010, allowing for more streamlined document-sharing, communication, scheduling and general collaboration.
Keeping competitive in a tough terrain
Fick says that the biggest benefit of the recent upgrades is knowing that she won’t have to go through another similar process for another 10 years.
“IT technology is what our business is and being able to connect to the technology, run it and keep it up and running is really, really critical for us,” she says.
To process claims, Accerta users connect to one server and pass through security checks before connecting to an adjudication server that dictates how clients’ health benefits are provided.
“If that whole connectivity isn’t functioning, if it breaks down somewhere, it prevents us from doing our work and prevents us for getting payments out,” says Fick. “It only takes a few hours of being down to put you behind. And if you get behind by one day, it takes you a couple of weeks to catch up because we run such a tight shop.”
Accerta can’t afford such outages – and the corresponding catch-up – in a competitive field.
“I think everybody’s in that position nowadays that you just don’t have catch-up time: You’re always on demand,” Fick adds. “Our new technology environment gives clients better service, it gives them dependable service, and it gives them that fast turnaround that they’re always looking for.”
McCaw says the move to virtualization puts Accerta “in the same ballpark” as some of their much larger competitors – like Sun Life or Manulife, who employ hundreds to assist with IT needs.
“With Accerta implementing a private-cloud infrastructure that is fully managed and monitored, they have achieved a level of technical sophistication that other competitors have only begun to evaluate,” he says. “The Accerta private cloud positions the company as a technology leader with a platform on which they can grow and scale their organization to meet the needs of their customers.” Microsoft Server Product Portfolio
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