CASE STUDY: Lync-ing for collaboration – the Beca story

Beca's NZ ICT manager discusses the benefits that Lync has brought the firm, and its move towards effective mobile management and BYOD

Nearly two years after an initial unified communications implementation with Microsoft Lync, engineering consultancy firm Beca has realised benefits that it wasn’t counting on.

“One of our key objectives was to get closer to our clients. Going from basic telephony to enterprise voice has helped immensely by itself. But the collaboration side in helping us to iterate and be more agile, and align ourselves better has been great benefits. The whole conferencing space has also helped us get closer to our clients,” says Abbie Gunning, NZ ICT manager at Beca.

“One of the unknowns that we encountered during the project was people’s behaviour. If they saw that I was on a call, they would not call me. They would probably tag me to change alerts, and ring me when I became available. That sort of behaviour is time saving. Previously, you would ring and you would end up at the reception and someone says 'ah the person you rang isn’t there'. So that’s been a huge benefit and time saver for everybody.

“The video conferencing side of it has been very powerful. We have got a large footprint in Asia, and communicating overseas can be quite difficult when the language does not match the body language. Video conferencing with our Asian colleagues has really helped us to understand what they are actually saying, as opposed to what we are just hearing. That is quite a good benefit,” she adds.

There have been some obvious cost savings in moving from the traditional PABX to the Lync system, including reduction in maintenance and admin costs. With the creation of virtual teams who can share screens, and work jointly on markups and design reviews, flying time and effort has been drastically reduced as well.

“More than anything else, it is the agility that it has given us. When we create a new office, you don’t have to worry about moving phone lines and patching and things like that. Because your computer is your phone and it goes everywhere with you. Lync will work on your computer with just a raw internet connection. You don’t need to be VPNed into the network to make it work. It makes you incredibly mobile,” says Gunning.

The solution has helped increase collaboration not just internally, but also with connected partners that are working together on particular sites. The company has also found benefits around the reporting structure of the solution.

“The Lync reporting has helped us to show some of the business trends, inbound phone calls and helped us understand when we are busy, how busy we really are and what’s reasonable expectations of our admin staff. You can see how many calls are actually coming in and if it is feasible for one reception staff to man that. Then again with the help desk, you can understand what comes in and when the busy periods are, so you can start to tailor your rosters and shifts around that, which has been quite good,” says Gunning.

If your links go down, if you lose your database, if you lose power – Lync was one of the first thing that end-users noticed. When Lync goes offline you lose presence, you lose your phone – that’s incredibly disruptive

She believes that Lync was a pretty big giant step for Beca and the firm would need to continue along to keep it advancing.

All hands on Lync

Beca prides itself on having a diverse range of people making up its staff, and it has noticed that different people use Lync in different ways.

“The younger graduates that come through are much more into messaging as a form of communication as opposed to older school senior engineers who phone people. They don’t quite understand the messaging side of it. When you collaborate overseas it is common practice to turn the video on. We have just go various forms of communication and it meets the diverse needs of the people that we have got here,” says Gunning.

Considering how critical communication is to Beca, Gunning is pretty sure that the firm would not look to outsource Lync or buy it as a service in the near future.

“If you outsource it you really have to have strong SLAs and confidence of the ability to have it work. Our experience in putting it in with the various touch points that we had along the way, really showed us the ability for Lync to be one of the most visible aspects across the business when links failed. If your links go down, if you lose your database, if you lose power – Lync was one of the first thing that end-users noticed. It used to be Outlook, because they would not receive emails. When Lync goes offline you lose presence, you lose your phone – that’s incredibly disruptive,” says Gunning.

Supporting it in-house has also enabled the company to extend it to mobility platforms for its employees.

“If users want to bring their own computing hardware mobile or tablets we are absolutely taking advantage of that. We won’t let them on the network and they need to have certain level of security on the device to connect. We do a lot on the basics, like enabling email, calendar and local Wi-Fi. We also allow them to Citrix into various applications.

“We allow Lync on mobiles, just the basic IM and presence functionality. We also allow file sharing via an application. Those are the apps that we allow with BYOD devices. We are slowly evolving our mobile strategy overall,” says Gunning.

Beca’s employees have been bringing their own devices, sometimes even two of them, to work for quite some time now. While there are a lot of Apple devices in Australia and NZ, there are more Android devices in Asia, and Beca’s new mobile strategy will have to take that into account.

She believes that the firm’s BYOD strategy will evolve along with its mobile strategy.

“We have been doing a lot of discovery around the mobile strategy space. We will be looking to implement a mobile device management (MDM) tool real soon. We are really just putting things together to understand where we need to start with our mobile strategy. We are slightly behind our end users,” states Gunning with a laugh.

Beca’s employees have been bringing their own devices, sometimes even two of them, to work for quite some time now. While there are a lot of Apple devices in Australia and NZ, there are more Android devices in Asia, and Beca’s new mobile strategy will have to take that into account.

“You have to be agnostic in terms of OSes on mobile devices. It doesn’t matter if it is Apple or Android or Windows – there are implications for all of them. But you need to be open to all of them and then secure what you care about internally.

“Everybody goes on about how Android is really susceptible to malware attacks. Ultimately they are such cheap devices. You cannot ignore them in the market. Your TCO [total cost of ownership] drops completely because you are not investing a $1000 and hoping that you will get a return on that in the next three years.

“I think we are leaning more towards let’s keep what we care about and allow people to be agile and mobile in the space that they like, particularly with our Asian colleagues. There is very little Apple in Singapore and Indonesia. It is very much Android and Samsung. So we have really had to be open to the way in which they work and how they are seen,” says Gunning.

The team at Beca has considered a few MDM solutions in the market, and is considering a managed service offering to enable and support their move towards BYOD.

“In this space, it makes sense to outsource and have it delivered as a managed service by the provider – be it a vendor or reseller or supplier. Since we are in different areas of the world we really need to be able to build locally – think global, act local. So we need the vendors to be able to bill us in the currency of the country that we are working in. That becomes a key driver.

“We want to delve further into some of the solutions that we have found, but we might change our minds depending on the outcome of our concepts,” states Gunning.

A packed year

This year, Beca will look to implement a backup and data archiving strategy.

“We are changing the way we care about data, information and storage. We are redesigning our storage strategy around that. Some of the basic data classification and retention will be one of the hot topics for this year.

“We have a data centre in Auckland and one in Melbourne. We might add to that with one in Singapore for disaster recovery management. That will play into our storage and archiving strategy. How we back up will definitely tie into where data is located and what is the best fit for the business,” says Gunning.

We have a policy for regular infrastructure refreshes, but this is tied to the financials of the firm as well. Depending on the equipment and the criticality of it you are looking at three to five years, or five to seven years depending on how old the equipment is.

The company is also looking to implement Commvault’s Simpana solution to support a move from tape.

In the application space, the company will look into the benefits of moving to Lync 2014, as well as SharePoint 2013 and Office 365.

“We were one of the early adopters of Windows 7, and we will look to stay on that for the next three years. We have a policy for regular infrastructure refreshes, but this is tied to the financials of the firm as well. Depending on the equipment and the criticality of it you are looking at three to five years, or five to seven years depending on how old the equipment is,” says Gunning.

As for cloud, Gunning says the firm is still testing the waters.

“We have not delved too much into that space. We are aware of what it can offer but we haven’t really looked into what we care about and what we want to keep. We will definitely get a strategy on it this year. At this stage, there are a couple of pockets of cloud and extra storage that we are trialling. But there is nothing set in stone,” she says.

With a globally dispersed IT team, including more than 15 in New Zealand alone, Beca is constantly looking to do more with less when it comes to budgets.

“To be fair, 2013 was one of our better years, where the business has accepted that we need to invest in some areas, like backup and archive, cloud and mobile. In 2014, we hope the budget enables us to invest in the various initiatives that the business approves of,” concludes Gunning.

Join the Computerworld New Zealand newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags lynctelephonyunified communicationsdesktopsinfrastructurePCWindowsbecaabbie gunningAndroidWindows 7pabxconferencingApplesamsungVideo ConferencingMicrosoftmobility

More about AppleCitrix Systems Asia PacificMicrosoftmobilesSamsungTCO

Show Comments
[]