Financial software and services giant Sungard is taking its first steps towards unified communications, with a New Zealand rollout of Microsoft’s just-announced Office Communications Server.
The US$4.3 billion (NZ$5.6 billion) company has a New Zealand presence and a local development operation by virtue of its acquisition of Global Information Solutions, in late 1999. It develops financial software in Christchurch for data recovery, higher education, financial and public sector applications.
Director of software development Peter Tuhill says the unified communications project, being implemented by Gen-i and Sungard staff, is one of the earliest rollouts in the world of Microsoft’s new technology. It was not conceived with the aim of answering any particular problems, but to improve efficiency and productivity, he says.
“We want to push what we do here as an organisation,” he says. And having such leading systems helps in attracting good staff.
Sungard grabbed the opportunity to change its communications systems while planning the relocation of its offices. Early next year, the company will consolidate from three buildings into one new one. Steve Kennedy, the company’s New Zealand IT director, says cabling and telephony in the new building are being renewed, while the rest of the ICT infrastructure is being moved across.
“The telephony system was pretty basic,” he says.
Sungard is a Microsoft development shop, so the choice of the new Microsoft unified communications suite was natural, Kennedy says. The company also uses Exchange, a central component of the system. The company saw Gen-i present the Microsoft plus Nortel solution five months ago and liked what it saw.
“It was good timing from Gen-i,” Kennedy says, admitting Sungard is ahead of the curve in the implementation. “It fits our business model exactly, but it won’t fit everyone’s.”
As the project is an early one, there has been a lot of direct engagement with Microsoft, he adds. Sungard is also on Nortel’s early adopter programme as it will be installing a Nortel PABX.
The project is also a pilot for the rest of the organisation, Kennedy says. The ultimate aim is to push the system out through Sungard internationally.
The timeline for the project is to have Office Communications Server up and running for all staff by the end of November, to provide instant messaging within the company. Testing of headsets and person-to-person calling will follow.
The primary business driver of the project is that Sungard is a global company and the local operation needs to communicate globally, Kennedy says. Introducing “presence”, the ability of a phone system to detect or know whether a phone is attended, was considered of key importance.
The solution will be focused on internal calling and calling within the region at first, Kennedy says. The company had been using Skype, but this was dropped because of security concerns, he says. However, that experience has fed into Sungard’s communications wishlist: it wants something “Skypelike” that won’t hit bandwidth too hard.
There were financial drivers for the project as well, Kennedy says.
VoIP phones are expensive, at $250 to $450 each each, he says. So, the company investigated alternatives, in the form of USB headsets for the development staff, to reduce the cost, and to reduce the number of desk-phones, from 150 to 50.
Another area of saving was in cable redesign, again enabled by the move to new premises. This has been reduced to three per desk from four, cutting the cable count from 800 to 600 overall.
Gen-i is agnostic regarding the unified communications solutions it provides. While the company considers Microsoft, Nortel and Cisco skills to be among its core competencies, it also partners with local provider Zeacom and even has a foot in the open source camp, via its Asterisk practice.
Gen-i’s service line-manager for unified communications, Steve McGinn, says unified communications is a new market space and companies are building their capabilities as they go. He says demand at the moment is for spot solutions. Companies may be experiencing a pain-point and looking for a quick fix.
Increasingly, however, customers are looking for a single communications experience, and a single desktop tool to manage that, McGinn says. They want the same interface whether they are using instant messaging, mobile communications or desktop communications.
Such systems also make it possible to use a single archiving solution, says Selwyn Rimmer, Gen-i’s solutions manager. He says the Sungard implementation is all about creating virtual collaborative teams to improve time-to-market for upgrades and patches, and other development work.