Ambitious about Autism creates opportunities for people with autism, supported by Microsoft 365
Never underestimate what a small band of people can accomplish with a shoestring budget and great drive. 21 years ago in a borrowed room within the Royal Free Hospital in North London a group of parents set out to make the ordinary possible for children and young people with autism. What started with four pupils in 1997 has since evolved into Ambitious about Autism, a national charity that now supports thousands of children, young people and their families with specialist education to help them learn, thrive and achieve.
Our work involves campaigning and raising awareness on the outside, while providing innovative, flexible and secure learning environments for students within our two schools and the Ambitious College, London’s only registered specialist day college for learners with complex autism aged 16-25.
We’ve achieved a lot since our inception but ambition is our middle name (kind of). Our passion for levelling the playing field for people with autism has led to a visionary roadmap, and for this we need the right technology. Microsoft 365 has become central to our mission to provide our 400 teaching and corporate staff with the flexibility, speed and security they need to work at maximum educational and operational efficiency.
Our previous IT solution was expensive, fragmented and poorly placed to support and scale our future growth. Working with 3rd party IT providers has its advantages, yet as we expanded we quickly outgrew the ‘per-user’ cost model and needed a platform that gave us full internal control and desktop support, simplified and secure file sharing networks and singular points of reference for backup and disaster recovery.
Now with Microsoft 365, we have all that and more. We’ve been able to centralise our IT functions across our various sites, as changes are made locally. The platform is secure and reliable and we’ve gained improved access across all data points. Plus, the inbuilt compliance and security features in tools such as SharePoint will greatly assist us in the upcoming GDPR, which takes another stress away from the business.
The financial benefit has been extensive already, and as our transition evolves we feel the full savings matrix will be significant. The next stage is our transition to Azure and we’re working closely with London-based Office 365 consultants, TechQuarters, who have been instrumental in planning and supporting us throughout our migration project to date.
From an IT perspective, the transition has been a ‘no brainer’: we’re a team of 3 supporting almost five hundred people, and our move to Microsoft 365 has released valuable time for my team to provide a more responsive service to our users. For example, we were previously waiting up to 5 days to add a new user to the system – and then incurring costs for that user on an ongoing monthly basis with our IT contract providers. Now we can set someone up in-house in a matter of minutes, grant or revoke access rights as required, troubleshoot, guide and support, and all at no extra cost to the business.
Microsoft 365 has given us so much, yet it’s important to remember that this is not just another IT project. We’re a charity and everything we do here is really making a difference to people’s lives. We’ve made a commitment to make sure our work has the biggest impact for children and young people and our journey has helped change the face of autism education in the UK forever.
The sheer flexibility of the Microsoft platform is empowering our staff, teachers and students to self-serve and explore technology. Office 365 has been instrumental in fast tracking the ‘real world’ IT skills of our learners, supporting them towards mainstream life outside our educational settings. We’re still on the curve of implementing what’s possible for our students and are excited to see how apps like Skype and Yammer can enhance communication and collaboration.
Microsoft has given us the platform for the future. We’ve put Office 365 at the heart of our IT system to provide us with a cost effective, resilient, scalable, multi-functional and multi-site platform that will enable us to support the growth of our special education and support services for children and young people with autism. We’re now in our 21st year and what’s most exciting for us - just like many of our young people who are celebrating their own milestone birthdays – from a technology perspective, we feel like we’re just getting started.