Out with the old in with the new

Springcleaning your IT infrastructure is never easy, but with today's cost contraints it's even tougher

Legacy hardware and software can be a boon or a barrier to better business. There are good legacies and bad legacies. The good might be a custom application that suits your business to a T. The bad could be one that can’t adapt to online business, can’t deliver vital business infomation or is simply undocumented.

Sometimes bad legacies come from system proliferation, where vital data is stored and managed in ways that defy integration.

Given that, and the vast differences between different industries and different businesses, the challenges of an IT spring-clean vary widely, but there does seem to be a convergence in the kinds of solutions being considered (see "The story of State Services Commission server"). For Telecom subsidiary Gen-i and brewer Lion Nathan, that appears to be improved and unified communications.

Peter Finch became CIO of Gen-i partly as a result of Telecom’s operational separation. Where once there was a group CIO (Mark Ratcliffe, now CEO of Telecom’s network business Chorus), now the separated units of Telecom are appointing their own.

Finch is a former general manager of IT at Telecom with 30 years of ICT experience.

Finch says Gen-i, as an IT vendor, wants to practice what it preaches in adopting and using the technology it offers to customers internally.

To a large extent that is already happening, but there are still legacy challenges, with some systems dating back to before Telecom acquired Gen-i.

There are also some systems in place from Computerland, another integrator acquired by the telco and merged into Gen-i.

Same challenges, limited resources

“There’s a fair bit of spring-cleaning to do around that,” he says. “It’s the same challenges but with a finite amount of money. It’s about working out the best investment to make for the business.

Finch says there are still legacy networks in place and around 100 servers, some of which run legacy applications. These applications, including Computerland’s old financial environment, have to be kept for compliance reasons, he says.

“They have to be maintained for access,” he says. “We’re not upgrading it or using it but it’s needed to get into data.”

While most of the CRM and Sales Force Automation systems have been moved, Gen-i is undertaking a project to complete the rationalisation of its service management systems. The company is migrating off a number of packages, including Vantive and Computerland’s JobTrack system onto HP’s Service Centre.

Being the CIO of an IT provider is a different kind of CIO role, Finch says.

“Most CIO’s roles are to use ICT to deliver value to the business. Mine is to improve an ICT business. It’s a business that understands what it can do.”

Finch says that has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is it isn’t hard to get buy-in to new projects as business managers understand the value, although Finch adds that a business case still needs to be developed.

The downside is that everybody has an idea about how things should be done.

Finch says there are three broad drivers of development at Gen-i. In order they are: maturing delivery capabilities; industry change and Telecom’s transformation programme; and separation. At this point that requires considering what can be shared with Telecom and what should be done independently.

Gen-i continues to use Telecom’s single SAP instance for core financials and related applications, for instance.

The rollout of Cisco’s Telepresence video conferencing system is one new priority. Finch had this funded out of the corporate travel budget. He asked for 20% of the travel budget to be allocated to rolling out the state-of-the-art conferencing system across four sites: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Sydney.

Finch hopes to have the system up and running this year, building consents permitting.

Continuing the communications theme, Gen-i is also moving to unified communications, deploying and upgrading PBxs for Microsoft’s OCX software, working with Telecom and EDS to do so. Mobile integration is also in the plan.

“It’s all about getting the sales people using the technology they are offering to customers,” Finch says.

Finch says to deliver value CIOs need to understand the pain-points of the business and upgrade to address those pain-points.

“For issues like scarcity, mobility, work/life balance — when deploying new solutions, how do you enable those?”, he asks.

No half-measures for Lion Nathan

For Australasian alcoholic beverages company Lion Nathan, shifting to voice-over-IP and then to unified communications is leading to the decommissioning of legacy PBX systems. Lion Nathan started its voice-over-IP journey in 2002, and has gradually extended a unified communications solution to cover all staff in Australia and New Zealand over the past year.

One of the key lessons of the project is that benefits increase as deployment increases, says Lion Nathan’s CIO, Darryl Warren.

“You won’t get the benefits if you muck around. You can’t half do it. You have to commit,” he told the audience at the recent CIO Conference, in Auckland, held earlier this month.

The 3,000-employee company, which owns 13 breweries and 10 wineries across Australia and New Zealand, gradually decommissioned PBX systems as they came off lease and transitioned to an IP-based unified communications solution, built on technologies from Cisco and Microsoft.

The company now has universal inboxes, which have significantly helped increase productivity, says Warren.

With a high priority on disaster recovery and customer-facing systems, two contact centres, as well as a very mobile workforce – 600 people are on mobile phones and tablet PCs — communication is key to the company, he says.

But, prior to rolling out the unified communications system, it was difficult to reach people, despite utilising multiple technologies, Warren says. On any day, a third of the staff would not be sitting at their desks. “Many of them could be anywhere in the world,” he says.

The new unified communications strategy allows staff to have desktop phone voice messages delivered to their mobile phones. Warren mentions in passing that the solution supported Apple’s iPhone from Day One. Staff can also choose to have their voicemail emailed to them and listen to messages in the browser.

“You can also forward the voice message to someone else to take action on,” adds Warren.

He says the staff “absolutely loves” the universal inbox.

Lion Nathan is also embracing social networking tools such as audio conferencing, instant messaging, online status, presence and desktop application sharing.

Convergence is here, he says, and now that there are business grade social networking solutions, why not use them?

The company is seeing productivity gains from using these tools. For example, the IT service desk team estimates it saves 30 minutes per day by utilising instant messaging within the group, he says.

“When I sit at my desk I can see the presence of everyone in my organisation on [Microsoft Office] Communicator,” says Warren.

And not only is every single person in the organisation only an instant message away, Warren can also see the presence of a group of federated companies, including Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, he says.

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