NÖKU Holding has built a new digital working environment for around 40 cultural and scientific institutions with Citrix DaaS and Microsoft 365. Employees can now access over 150 applications from anywhere and with any terminal - including graphics-intensive applications for creative jobs Cloud based management and integrated security technologies ensure both efficient and secure operation of the environment.
Since over 20 years Lower Austria’s cultural life has been inseparably connected to NÖ Kulturwirtschaft (NÖKU [Lower Austrian Cultural Industries]) GesmbH. The culture management organization has 14 subsidiaries under a holding company, with around 40 artistic and cultural brands, especially in the areas of music, theater, dance, fine arts, archaeology, history and nature. Institutions like the Festspielhaus St. Pölten [St. Pölten Festival Theatre], the Kunsthalle Krems museum, or the Bühne Baden musical theater are some of the most important cultural institutions in Lower Austria.
NÖKU performs a lot of tasks for the affiliated institutions - from HR management and financial accounting to IT services. All member institutions also exchange information on new developments on an ongoing basis and have, among other things, developed a joint strategy for the year 2025 and beyond.
“New technologies and innovative digital solutions play a decisive role in our strategy for the future” says Barbara Reithofer, Head of IT and EDP Service in NÖKU Holding. “We use, among other things, digital marketing tools to find out more about our audiences and to tap into new target groups. Additionally, since the COVID-19 pandemic it has become even more important to be present online and to convey content in the virtual space as well.” Thus, NÖKU Holding operates around 50 websites for the affiliated institutions - often with integrated ticketing systems. Virtual event format offerings have expanded significantly since 2020.
However, the latest digital technologies are also indispensable for creating professional working conditions for the approximately 800 permanent employees and several hundred temporary staff. On the one hand, the cultural institutions need the NÖKU Group for administration, communication and creative work - a number of different applications. On the other hand, new technologies also help making the working environment more flexible, and help improve work-life balance.
“Our focus is always on providing every employee with a modern and effective digital workspace”, emphasises Barbara Reithofer. “But, as a public institution we also have to use tax money in the most economical way, and are obligated to the comprehensive protection of sensitive data. Therefore, we always try to reconcile the best possible user comfort, economical efficiency and a high level of security.”
However, the existing, evolved IT infrastructure could only partly meet NÖKU’s goals.
“While there were some central services many applications were still being run locally on the employee’s computers”, reports Kevin Schweitzer, Deputy Head IT and EDP Services in NÖKU Holding. “This not only required a lot of administrative and support work - the heterogeneous system landscape made networked working within the organization more difficult.”
Planning and implementing a new workplace strategy with the IT service provider ACP. “Centralize, standardize and homogenize - these were our guidelines while doing so”, according to Schweitzer. Technologically, the project partners have chosen the digital workspace solution Citrix DaaS and the current Microsoft 365 services.
NÖKU’s new digital workspace brings together all the IT resources for the employees into a central interface. Users can access virtual applications in the computer centre, as well as web-based applications and cloud services, through the Citrix Workspace app.
“With the NÖKU Desktop we have created a working environment with a uniform look and feel for all the institutions” explains Barbara Reithofer. "Each user gets access to exactly the applications and services he needs for his tasks. Additional applications can be booked very easily: NÖKU’s services catalogue encompasses more than 150 different applications - including many applications for creative tasks like layouts, video editing and 3D planning.
The IT organisation has set-up virtual Windows 10 desktops especially for users that work with graphics-intensive applications. These are operated on dedicated servers with NVIDIA graphic cards. Applications like the CAD software AutoCAD, the video editing system, DaVinci Resolve and also software like Adobe Creative Cloud run on the so-called HD desktops. “Earlier we needed a powerful, expensive PC for every multimedia user - even if the graphics-intensive applications were only used for a few days a month”, says Kevin Schweitzer. “Today employees share the system resources on the servers in the computer centre and manage with a slim computer at their workplace.”
In NÖKU’s new digital working environment the users are basically no longer bound to a specific working location or a specific terminal. Many PC’s in the office are now being replaced with electricity-saving and inexpensive IGEL Thin Clients. Users can access their virtual desktop with a notebook or tablet while on the go. Regardless of which computer the employees log in with - they will always find their personal working environment with all the necessary applications.
This strategy makes it easier for NÖKU to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. “For our cultural institutions the lockdowns and restrictions during the pandemic meant a big cut”, says Barbara Reithofer. “Changing to home offices was actually the least of our problems.” With the technologies that we were already using all the employees were able to immediately continue their work from home.” The IT organization just needed to set up Microsoft Teams groups for every institution and provide some basic guidance to the staff. This also made the change easier for employees who had never worked in a home office before.
The good integration of Citrix and Microsoft technologies particularly pays off when using Microsoft Teams. Citrix offers an optimisation pack to improve performance when accessing Teams in a virtual environment. All the audio and video communication is stored on the terminal and carried out with local resources. This ensures seamless online meetings without disturbing pauses or interruptions of sound and picture.
The secure accessing infrastructure for working from home was implemented by NÖKU and ACP before the pandemic already. Access to digital workplace resources are fully secured by Citrix components. NÖKU uses both a Citrix ADC in its own computer centre and a Citrix Gateway Service in the Citrix Cloud. These components encrypt the entire communication between the terminal and the relevant resources and control identity and access administration via Azure AD Connect. Microsoft Authenticator is used for the multi-level user authentication also.
Within the virtual desktop, Microsoft AppLocker stops the execution of unwanted or unknown applications. Using Citrix policies, the IT organization can define which USB devices are permitted on the respective endpoint - and whether users are allowed to copy or print certain data, for example. Citrix’s Secure Browser Service (now Citrix Remote Browser Isolation) also protects access to web services and other Internet content. All websites are opened with a secure browser that automatically blocks potential threats to the IT infrastructure or NÖKU.
“With our Citrix infrastructure we not only enable secure working at any location, we also prevent the saving of data on terminals”, says Barbara Reithofer. “We keep control of what happens with our data in all situations. This facilitates complying with legal guidelines like the DSGVO.” (Datenschutz-Grundverordnung [General Data Protection Regulation])
Together with ACP, NÖKU has found an operating model for their digital workplaces that optimally combines the advantages of cloud and on-premises infrastructure. Virtual applications and desktops run with high availability in the redundantly designed data center - the whole management interface, on the other hand, is provided over the Citrix Cloud. Citrix is also responsible for the management and updating of important components and always keeps them up to date.
“It is a great relief for us that we do not have to deal with the management and patching of administrative components”, says Kevin Schweitzer. "With the high centralization and standardisation of the digital on-premises workspace and the hybrid cloud model, we are now able to manage the entire workspace infrastructure for all institutions centrally with a small team." There is no dedicated IT staff on site at the NÖKU institutions - for all technical questions, users turn to the IT organization’s central helpdesk.
But the support specialists do not have to deal with too many enquiries. In the new NÖKU digital working environment the support cost for the terminals in particular has decreased considerably. On the read-only IGEL Thin Clients only basic software like Citrix Workspace App is running, that creates the connection to the virtual desktop. Therefore, software problems almost never occur with the terminals. All the endpoints can also be managed and updated centrally, and can even be operated remotely if needed, through the IGEL Universal Management Suite and IGEL Cloud Gateway if need be.
“The efficient management, the lean processes and the cheaper terminals have helped us to minimize the costs for a modern workplace strategy”, concludes Barbara Reithofer. “The budget saved can now flow into innovative projects that support our varied tasks in the cultural field.”
NÖKU is an organization that is always in motion. New entities join the cultural holding every one to two years - and additional users and new challenges are added with the many events and festivals. For example, a comprehensive cultural program is planned in St. Pölten in 2024, for which an operating company with around 80 employees is being established.
The IT organization can react very flexibly to such changes with the hybrid cloud architecture. So Kevin Schweitzer sees that NÖKU is very well prepared for the future: “We don’t have to acquire servers and IT systems first to be able to support large numbers of users. Citrix AND Microsoft give us the possibility to flexibly add resources to the cloud when our on-premises infrastructure starts reaching its limits.
“NÖKU stands for the culture of change and is always ready to follow new paths. With Citrix and Microsoft technologies we are able to design a working environment today that is totally aligned with the diverse requirements of our employees.”
“Solutions like Citrix cloud-based management relieve us greatly in day-to-day operations. Today we spend a lot less time with the administration of servers and terminals - and can therefore focus more on the needs of our users.”
"Our partner ACP provided us with lots of valuable input, and helped us optimally plan and implement the use of Citrix and Microsoft digital workspace technology for our purposes.”