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Financial services firms consolidate ICT and cut costs using IP

Antony Savvas

International financial services firms Compass Advisers and Compass Partners have streamlined their communications systems and cut operational costs with a new IP-based system.

IT integrator SAS Group implemented the IP telephony and unified communications system for the two firms, and helped the companies consolidate a number of disparate IT systems onto a single infrastructure to coincide with the firms moving their London operations into one office. 

Combined, these installations have streamlined the way in which employees communicate both internally and externally, and have dramatically reduced IT management overheads.

Compass Partners is a private equity firm based in London, while Compass Advisers, which has offices in both London and New York, specialises in mergers and acquisitions. 

Under Financial Services Authority (FSA) regulations, the two firms must operate as separate entities.

Previously, to ensure compliance with these rules, the companies ran three completely disparate IT networks - one each at Compass Advisers in New York and London and a further one at Compass Partners' London office.

In late 2006, with the two London operations moving into the same building - and with much of the existing technology out of warranty and no longer supported by supliers - it was the ideal time for the firms to consolidate and upgrade their IT systems.

They therefore approached the SAS Group to design and implement a single voice, data and video network that could be securely partitioned to still ensure regulatory compliance.

Andrew Powell, research and IT director at Compass Partners, said, "From a business perspective our requirements were very specific, we wanted a single, state-of-the-art infrastructure that could support all our IT needs and reduce management overheads, all without compromising our compliance with industry regulations."

The majority of the firms' employees need to work remotely, either from home or at client premises. There is also a regular requirement for staff to travel between the London and New York offices.

As part of its technology overhaul, Compass Partners and Compass Advisers wanted an IP telephony (IPT) and unified communications system that would enable staff to pick up e-mail, voicemail, SMS, fax and instant messages from a single inbox of their choice, wherever they were located. 

It was particularly vital that all communications could be re-directed to and from employees' smartphones and PDAs. 

To meet these needs, the SAS Group recommended a Cisco CallManager IPT system in combination with Cisco Unity and Microsoft Exchange.

To ease management, Cisco CallManager is configured so that both companies' phone systems are hosted on a shared platform. However, to external callers, the firms appear completely separate.

To underpin the new IPT system, the SAS Group designed and built a Cisco-based local area network in London. 

This network is securely partitioned into two virtual Lans, to ensure voice and data traffic from the two companies is always kept separate and that staff from one company cannot access the other's information systems. 

Compass Partners and Compass Advisers also now share anti-virus protection, a firewall, internet connectivity and other non-sensitive applications.

The two companies' domain name system (DNS) servers, mail applications and sensitive documentation remain separate to ensure confidentiality and compliance with FSA regulations.

The next stage of the project will see the SAS Group install an IP-based virtual private network (VPN) linking the New York and London offices, allowing cheap international voice and video calls. 

At present, international calls are routed over the costly public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Related article: NHS Trust adopts speedy staff comms system

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