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Notruf Niederösterreich began years ago with the world’s first virtual emergency call center workstations. Especially during the pandemic, the concept proved its worth and was intensively expanded. By relying on flexible workstations, the specialist in the field of emergency call answering was able to cope with the growing tasks in times of crisis.
In emergencies, every minute counts. In Lower Austria, Austria’s largest province in terms of area, this life-saving responsibility has been in the hands of Notruf Niederösterreich (NNÖ) since 2003. The control center, which is spread across four locations, manages emergency calls from approximately two million citizens and travelers and alerts all emergency medical and rescue services, as well as mountain rescue, water rescue and cave rescue, and a range of other services, including triage by nurses. NNÖ has fulfilled its mission when rescue teams arrive in time to save lives, move patients to safety and provide optimal hospitalization, and to that end, seamless access to centralized data is critical.
Unreliable communications, system outages, and lack of access to critical information were barriers to saving lives long before the pandemic outbreak. Before the pandemic, NNÖ’s four sites had 50 workstations, excluding the back office. With the COVID-19 outbreak, both NNÖ’s workload and responsibilities increased exponentially. NNÖ had to quickly increase the number of its workstations to more than 100 while enabling a much larger number of employees to work remotely.
Alexander Hopfgartner, Head of Technology at NNÖ, and the NNÖ IT team recognized that a solution to enable remote working required the creation of remotely connected control center workstations, and although Hopfgartner has since used similar workstation models, this innovation was the first of its kind in the world at the time.
This was necessary because during the pandemic, NNÖ coordinated Lower Austria’s testing and vaccination program in addition to its original duties. Virtualized web services were used for this purpose, to which Austrian health offices, PCR laboratories and competent authorities also have access. Calltakers record each case and book official testing by mobile or stationary facilities for each suspected case. The data is forwarded to the authorities at the same time.
Employees can be deployed quickly
All of NNÖ’s workstations are based on VMware technology, including VMware Horizon®. This solution allows NNÖ to flexibly scale and guarantee operations at its sites via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony systems. As a result, the majority of the more than 100 employees can work remotely at peak times. “Today, we often deploy our staff according to a fluid model. If additional call takers are needed due to quarantine or high call volumes, we can configure and deploy these employees extremely quickly,” explains Hopfgartner.
The NNÖ’s 30-person back-office team uses Horizon, which gives the team the flexibility to increase the simultaneous staff up to 150, about half of whom work remotely. Call takers can also use Horizon virtual apps and desktops in the home office, allowing strict data security criteria to be met. Hopfgartner says, “We work with important medical and personal data all the time that needs to be protected appropriately. It’s essential that VMware Horizon only displays the data, but the data itself remains within our organization.”
Horizon also helped NNÖ develop two iPad apps: One app for navigating to the emergency scene and providing documentation relevant to the mission, and another app for documentation by EMS personnel so that medical documentation, as well as important information about the emergency, is available to all parties involved all the way to the hospital. The app can even be used on the personal smartphone of the rescue service personnel.
NNÖ focuses on availability, security and scalability
A key criterion for NNÖ is 100 percent availability of Horizon. “Other companies have maintenance windows of half an hour, and during this period all systems are shut down. Such a scenario would be unthinkable for us. All of our equipment must be operational at all times,” Hopfgartner explains. So every component is replaced every five years without interrupting operations.
In addition, security and scalability play an important role. NNÖ has developed a web platform to coordinate the testing and vaccination program, with applications developed to allow access by external staff, for government and testing and vaccination personnel.
Horizon ensures the high performance, security and scalability of this application, but also its independence from specific devices. This means that all users have access via iOS, Android or Windows on virtually any device. Hopfgartner explains that this access requires a multi-cloud approach that could not be achieved with traditional application management. “I use the latest version on a web platform and have access to it online. It couldn’t be easier,” he says.
Another important consideration for NNÖ was redundancy. However, with VMware vRealize® Cloud ManagementTM, workloads and the entire application portfolio can be seamlessly deployed, monitored, protected and optimized across multiple clouds. NNÖ therefore benefits from fast service, increased efficiency, and improved security and compliance with applicable laws and regulations. “We will never move our operations entirely to the cloud, because even in the event of a blackout, we need to be able to continue to function fully. And with VMware on-premise servers, we can do just that.”