When the pandemic hit, most organizations had to scramble to provide remote access for employees to work from home. But York Region Children’s Aid Society (YCAS) in Newmarket, Ontario, had everything it needed to meet the challenges, thanks to Gibraltar Solutions and Citrix.
YCAS has been protecting children and building stronger families since the 1940s with 24/7 child protection services and support for family problem-solving. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the agency served more than 12,500 children.
YCAS case workers and investigators are constantly on the road, travelling extensively throughout the York Region to respond to cases and work with families. While out of the office, they need convenient and reliable remote access to case documents. And, because YCAS staff work with highly confidential family information, storage, access, and retrieval must be secure.
To meet its current needs and anticipate workforce growth, YCAS turned to Gibraltar Solutions to upgrade its computing environment to modernize security, improve connectivity, and simplify operations for IT. With less than five IT professionals to support 300 employees, the YCAS IT team runs lean, which means they need a stable environment with low overhead support. Troubleshooting, when required, should be quick and easy, and tickets from users need to be minimal.
The organization also had concerns about data security. It was using an out-of-date version of Citrix Workspace for remote access, which worked well and didn’t require much maintenance. But the software had aged beyond Citrix’s support window, meaning the organization was behind in security updates. YCAS wanted a modernized security posture to protect against hackers and ransomware, which has become a real threat to government organizations.
To simplify operations, Gibraltar Solutions helped YCAS migrate its computing environment to an on-premises private cloud, which hosts the agency’s applications and converges its computing, storage, and much of its networking into one system. Instead of managing three separate platforms, the agency now manages its environment through one interface, taking a significant load off the IT team for infrastructure management. YCAS has minimal downtime due to infrastructure issues, thanks to the new infrastructure. Marco Lee, IT Manager at YCAS, says, “Everything is more centralized, so it works much better.”
To provide better protection for sensitive data, YCAS asked Gibraltar Solutions to upgrade its Citrix Workspace platform to the current version, which also enables secure remote access from any device an employee has available, including agency-issued laptop or personal tablet or smartphone.
A key benefit of Citrix for remote access is its ability to maintain a quality Internet connection. Before moving to Citrix about 12 years ago, the organization used virtual private networks (VPN) for secure remote access. While VPN provides secure access to the organizational network, there’s no folder or file-level security without adding expensive and complex third-party extensions. Anyone who gains access to the network has free reign to explore any corporate resource, a security risk that YCAS can’t afford. Internally, savvy users could bypass security settings to get access to nearly anything.
In addition, VPN can be very slow, especially if many people are using it to access the network or if users are working with large documents, a common scenario for YCAS employees. The agency stores its case documents back to the mid-1900s in an electronic archive. Lee says, “Some cases are a couple of thousand pages long. If we used VPN, that would be painfully slow.”
And VPN is device-specific. If a user logs in from the wrong device, they don’t get access, leading to support issues for IT. VPN also has high bandwidth requirements, so it can be finicky when maintaining a consistent Internet connection. If there’s a glitch in connectivity, VPN can drop off, forcing the user to log back in. YCAS investigators and case workers are already dealing with highly complex family issues. The last thing they need is to stop work and submit a support ticket.
Lee says, “When we were on VPN, we often had many support tickets because a device isn’t working, and VPN doesn’t make it easy to set up a new device. Whereas now, when they’re working from home, and especially with our after-hours team, when someone calls at 10:00 P.M., and their device isn’t working, with Citrix, we can easily redirect them to use their personal computer and access work through their browser. So, it makes our support a lot easier and more flexible for our employees.”
Citrix Workspace was designed for stable connectivity with the ability to handle slow or fickle connections without dropping the user off the network. As Citrix is device-agnostic, it provides access to the network and data based on user settings, not the device. Users can log into the network if they have the Citrix Receiver or Citrix Workspace app installed on their devices. They can work as long as the user can get to a browser. Users can resort to a smartphone or other device to access information if a laptop fails.
Citrix provides the granular level of security that most organizations need to keep their data secure. With Citrix, YCAS can grant conditional access to data by user, a group of users, device, geography, or application. Even if an unauthorized user were to gain entry, it would not be easy to access sensitive data. It also keeps curious or disgruntled employees from accessing data they don’t have permission to view or edit. By setting permissions by geography, YCAS can prevent criminals with stolen credentials from logging in outside Ontario.
Citrix can interrogate a device at the device level to determine if it’s a trusted endpoint. For example, it can check the device to ensure it has up-to-date antivirus software. If not, YCAS has the option to deny access or grant read-only access. The agency can also lock access to a USB to prevent downloading sensitive information.
With secure remote access enabled through Citrix, the YCAS IT team fields fewer support tickets because of Citrix’s flexibility with devices and a more reliable connection. Because Citrix is designed for easy administration—and because the platform is highly stable—the IT team spends less time on management and more on mission-critical activities. Lee says, “I haven’t heard any complaints for months.”
With the ability to configure security to meet its data privacy needs, YCAS has peace of mind that its data is secure and sensitive family information is accessible only by specific employees. The agency is also better positioned to attract younger workers who appreciate and expect up-to-date technology to do their work.
The benefits of Citrix Workspace came into focus when lockdowns were established due to the global pandemic. The agency went from 20-30 people working remotely using Citrix to 100 percent of employees. Thankfully, the migration to its on-premises cloud and the Citrix upgrade put YCAS in a great position to meet the pandemic’s challenges quickly. Lee says, “Overnight, Citrix became our primary business tool. We were amazed at how easily we could mobilize the whole agency to work from home with a short turnaround time with no major performance issues.” Today, about 100 employees are connected remotely to YCAS through Citrix at any given time.
For more than a decade, Gibraltar Solutions has worked side-by-side with YCAS to provide reliable, cost-effective solutions to help the agency fulfill its mission to protect children, starting with its data centre, adding Citrix for remote access, and most recently, its upgrade to an on-premises private cloud and the current version of Citrix Workspace.
By staying close to YCAS throughout its growth and changes, Gibraltar Solutions has become a trusted partner to the agency, helping it balance cost, security, and performance so YCAS can stay close to and better serve the children and families it supports. Lee says, “We’ve been with Gibraltar Solutions for more than ten years. If I need anything, Gibraltar is always beneficial. They help me get my job done, and I couldn’t be happier.”