awards

Computer Weekly European User Awards for Enterprise Software: 2014 winners

Kayleigh Bateman

Five innovative IT projects have been chosen as the winners of the Computer Weekly European User Awards for Enterprise Software 2014, during a ceremony at Cloud World Forum in London today.

The Computer Weekly European User Awards for Enterprise Software aim to recognise innovation through the use of enterprise software and information management.

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A panel of independent judges viewed entries in five categories: Public Sector Project, Best Technology Innovation, Supplier of the Year, Private Sector Project and Cloud Innovation.

The winners are:

  • Best Technology Innovation: Channel Four Television Corporation
  • Cloud Innovation: Morrison Utility Services
  • Private Sector: Lloyds Banking Group
  • Public Sector: Ucas (Entered by Splunk)
  • Supplier of the Year: BlackLine Systems

Best Technology Innovation: Channel Four Television Corporation

The Grand National is a chaotic race where even the broadcast commentary team can struggle to explain what’s happening. This presented a golden opportunity both to demystify the event and to improve the experience for Channel 4’s viewers of the Grand National for both novices and seasoned racing fans alike. 

By opening the race up to the audience at home and allowing them to focus on the horses they were interested in, we saw that it could take on an entirely new meaning.

Channel 4 turned to data provider TurfTrax, whose tracking system uses radio frequency transmitters sewn into each racehorse’s saddle cloth. Their tracking chips transmit speed and positional data to a series of antennas located around the course; more than 80 in the case of Aintree.

Traditionally, this data has been used to provide sectional timings and horse speed information, but by tweaking the data formatting and opening up a connection in this normally closed circuit, we were able to make use of it in a completely new way.

Channel 4 then worked with second screen technology experts Monterosa to digest the data and define the look and feel of the app. It determined what speed, distance to leader, distance to finish, acceleration, fences to jump and, above all, horse position, were the key pieces of information to take to the audience.

This was broken down into three views for the user: a detailed, Single Runner view showing data for a specific horse and all of its individual stats; an All Horses view to see the relative positions of all the runners; and a Your Horses view showing only the positions of the user’s pre-selected horses. 

The app was then re-released for the 2014 Cheltenham and Grand National races with added features including real-time course mapping of all the runners and a Most Tracked view. A Stats View was also added, that allowed producers to see exactly how many people were tracking each horse, providing instant editorial content.

Crucially, all of these views had to update in real time as the race developed. It was important that the application tied into the TV broadcast rather than existing separately from it. Therefore, it was vital that the data the user received about horse positions should be aligned perfectly with the footage that they viewed at home.

The app was the number one free app in the UK during the festival period in 2013 and 2014. It was used by more than 100,000 people during the Grand National race and received a 4.5 star rating in the app store.

Judges' comments

Clive Longbottom, founder of Quocirca: “The project had to bring together a mix of different stakeholders and technologies to meet disparate needs. Multiple different technologies, some new and some old, had to be pulled together to create a solution that was acceptable to the viewer while having little to no impact on the race itself. That the product has been tuned since and used on other courses shows that Channel 4 has not been resting on its laurels. I also believe the project could be used in a similar form in many other sporting events.”

Brian McKenna, business applications editor, Computer Weekly: “Channel 4’s Grand National app was the fruit of sustained, applied innovation. The team orchestrated a range of specialist suppliers to solve different parts of the puzzle, from getting the data from the race horses’ movement, through getting it to the audience in sync with the television broadcast. No mean technical feat.”

Cloud Innovation: Morrison Utility Services

Morrison Utility Services (MUS) maintains the utility network infrastructure across the UK. Through its field employees, the utility services contractor is responsible for maintaining, repairing and replacing parts of the utility infrastructure that UK citizens rely on every day.

For MUS, an important line of business is its reinstatement services – the reinstatement, or filling in, of excavations and roadworks. To a citizen waiting for a hole to be filled outside their property, it may seem like a simple job, but the reinstatement process is complex. 

Each job can be made up of 20 or more individual, and often interdependent, tasks, and incorporates the use of various specialist vehicles, sourcing and transporting materials to the correct specification to multiple sites, and deploying staff with the right experience, accreditation and skills. On top of that, all of these moving parts must be managed in compliance with client service level agreements (SLAs) and notice/permit periods under Street Works legislation.

MUS chose to deploy cloud-based mobile workforce management software from TOA Technologies in 2012. TOA’s solution, ETAdirect, offers a precise approach to field operations management that enables MUS to comply with service agreements, stay ahead of the workload and reduce fuel costs. 

It uses a unique, time-based approach for optimising the scheduling process – it uses data collected from the field to determine the best match between tasks and resources, and provides vehicles with the shortest routes between job sites, ensuring tasks are completed with the highest level of speed and productivity possible.

It has seen £76,000 in savings by reducing the time agents and dispatchers spend scheduling and assigning work manually. It has increased workforce productivity by eliminating time spent visiting depots to return/collect paperwork and intelligently scheduling interdependent tasks. The company has seen a 15% reduction in travel time and made fuel cost savings of approximately £2,288 per field team (roughly £110,000 total), by reducing trips to the depot and optimising routing between work sites. It has decreased wasted site visits, thanks to greater visibility of which job was last completed and when.

It has also seen more consistent compliance with SLAs and permit/notice regulations to avoid fines.

Judges' comments

McKenna: “MUS’s job is to fill in holes in the road, created by excavations and roadworks. It does so efficiently, using cloud-based mobile workforce management tool ETAdirect from TOA Technologies. It has taken the complexity out of its field operations as a utility services contractor. Benefits include a 15% reduction in travel time and reduced fuel costs of £2,288 per field team. It is a classic operations management problem solved.”

Private Sector: Lloyds Banking Group

Lloyds Banking Group set a group-wide target to reduce its electricity consumption by 20% by 2015. An IT initiative led by the UK Desktop Services team has made a significant contribution towards meeting these targets and supporting this key business strategy.

The introduction of the 1E NightWatchman Enterprise tool sits at the heart of the group’s "power down PC" initiative, led by the Desktop Services team. In just eight months, the initiative has delivered savings of £2,268,337 in electricity costs and 9,836,487kg of CO2, equating to 260,288 seedlings that have grown for 10 years or saving 1.1 million gallons of petrol.

Through the application of software, the Desktop Services team has brought together 90,000+ employees to work collectively to support the group’s environmental statement, which states it “works continually to reduce its environmental impact and facilitate a more sustainable, low-carbon, resource-efficient economy”.

The Service Delivery – Desktop Services team identified a huge potential saving in powering down its estate of 90,000+ PCs when not in use. Enforcing a policy across such a large, dispersed workforce was highly challenging, but the introduction of 1E’s NightWatchman Enterprise tool has enabled the IT team to lead the group’s energy-saving strategy, using the software tool to automate the process of shutting down and putting the PCs to sleep. Its proven ability to save £23 to £27 a year per PC meant potential savings of millions if the tool was applied to all PCs.

Judges' comments

McKenna: “The Lloyds’ team not only demonstrated the significant energy savings that can be delivered through the application of technology for PC power management, but also how this sort of technology-based initiative can achieve lasting changes in behaviour and culture within an organisation. The Desktop Services team brought together 90,000+ employees to work collectively to support the group’s environmental mission.”

Public Sector: Ucas (Entered by Splunk)

Ucas is responsible for managing applications to higher education institutions and is active all year round operating application services. But the service peaks in mid-August on A-Level results day as students log into Track, Ucas's online application system, to find out whether they have been accepted by their chosen university or college. This places much more pressure on Ucas's IT infrastructure than any other point of the year.

In 2013, Ucas migrated much of its infrastructure to the cloud to cope with this pressure. The "peaky" nature of Ucas operations is particularly compatible with the advantages of using cloud-based services. Cloud architectures offer Ucas scalability, out-of-the-box opportunities, high availability and resilience across multiple availability zones. 

Ucas moved the core of its Confirmation and Clearing process to the cloud: hosting the Track system on the Microsoft Azure cloud service, while the infrastructure databases and "link systems" which enable universities and colleges to administer the admissions process were migrated to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud.

Ucas deployed Splunk Enterprise across 40 servers and around 70 log sources, all of which are deployed through AWS, with everything forwarded to a Splunk server for indexing. By indexing, searching, alerting and reporting on machine data from a number of data sources across Ucas's IT infrastructure, the Splunk system gives Ucas's IT team a series of visualisations of their system performance, key operational metrics (broken down by HEI), their usage, the queries they are running and how the various applications are functioning.

Ucas has experienced several benefits as a result of using its machine data to gain greater visibility into its infrastructure and service offerings. By capturing machine data of system usage, Ucas gains visibility into real-world demand for its applications and services. This captured system information is used to allow creation of performance test cases. This identifies potential issues which can then be resolved pre-emptively, before any impact is felt by Ucas’s users.

At its peak on 15 August 2013, the Track system saw more than 180 logins per second, hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud service, while AWS supported more than 350 higher education providers in accessing Ucas services in the cloud.

With insight and visibility across multiple systems delivered by Splunk Enterprise, the team is now able to track down the cause of errors and potential operational disruption. This rapid resolution of production issues leads to Ucas's systems being highly available.

As a result, the organisation managed to place 385,910 students into higher education as of A-Level results day. By combining the flexibility benefits of cloud technologies with the real-time insight delivered by Splunk, Ucas was able to give every student and university in the UK the fastest response times and top level of service they expect.

Judges' comments

Longbottom: “Ucas has to deal with a massive spike in activity based around clearing, and has had problems in the past. Acknowledging that cloud would offer a capability to deal with such peaks in a cost-effective manner meant that Ucas could take a more measured and strategic approach to its issues. Through the use of AWS and Azure, Ucas ensured that performance and workload management was maintained throughout the peak period.”

McKenna: “The improved and real-time analytics afforded Ucas by this Splunk implementation has enabled the organisation to resolve network errors quickly, keeping this vital service highly available at a crunch time for A-Level and other students. As the organisation migrated to the cloud and scaled out its infrastructure, it needed a tool to aggregate device logs and intelligently search them across multiple servers. The Ucas team’s focus on the intelligent analysis of logged ‘big’ data suggests it will develop the installation further.”

Supplier of the Year: BlackLine Systems

BlackLine Systems offers an alternative to slow manual accountancy processes. Not only does the software speed up the process and enable accountants to spend more time on more important strategic issues, it also cuts costs, sometimes by as much as 50%, or even more in some cases.

BlackLine supports existing accounting practices by offering software that automates and centralises the entire account reconciliation and financial close processes. Because it is deployed in a software as a service (SaaS) environment, it eliminates the need for capital expenditure approval, saving customers a great deal of time and money upfront.

The software is delivered over the internet in a secure SaaS and it uses a set of rules to process mass data, so accountants can focus on the work that really matters. BlackLine provides client-configurable tools and templates based on good accounting practices that also enable companies to quickly adapt these tools to their internal practices. BlackLine also provides multi-currency support for its customers, in addition to one-to-many/many-to-many/many-to-one matching algorithms and built-in education tools for users.

BlackLine’s European client base includes Achmea, Boeing, Eurostar, Level 3 Communications, Kempinski Hotels and Schroders, to name a few.

Judges' comments

McKenna: “Financial applications is a strategically core technology area for any business, and financial closing is a classic business problem. BlackLine Systems’ SaaS system offers the promise of agility beyond the nightmare of spreadsheets, and is an established part of SAP’s ecosystem.”


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