Unified communications supports IT makeover at VT Group

The defence group is placing emphasis on improving employee interaction and efficiency through improved communications as part of a group-wide IT transformation plan.

The defence group is placing emphasis on improving employee interaction and efficiency through improved communications as part of a group-wide IT transformation plan.

VT has been acquired by engineering support services firm Babcock International this summer and is now embarking on a major IT revamp, as both companies are nearing the end of their respective technology lifecycles.

The unified communications approach is part of that process and is seen as a route to improve collaboration between employees and increase operational efficiency. VT started a trial four months ago and the results so far have been satisfactory, despite the challenges.

"It has been a real journey. We have about 3,000 to 4,000 mobile workers who travel quite a lot, so we have been working on changing people's mindsets around using features such as video conferencing as opposed to face-to-face meetings," said the head of IT strategy, architecture and products at VT Group, Chris Mudie.

"Part of the company is focused on manufacturing, where there isn't a huge take-up of technology, so there has also been a challenge to get them using the resources of unified communications and demonstrate the benefits," he added.

"Conversely, people working in support and project management functions are more familiar with tools such as Skype and they see them as productivity drivers as it reduces the amount of travel and centralises the data they need. It is something they wanted for a long time and we weren't able to deliver before because the technology wasn't there, or we didn't have the budget or security controls around it. "

As part of the trial, the company rolled out new hardware and also introduced Office Communication Server software supplied by Teksys. Unified communications is a key part of the wider transformation agenda at the consolidated group, which is expected to take place over the next 12-24 months.

When it comes to the main lessons about the application of unified communications, Mudie says that design and planning, as well as a detailed analysis of the wide area network and bandwidth capacity are crucial.

The work around the technology revamp goes way beyond the traditional 'heavy lifting' which is usual in IT transformations, according to Mudie. The plan includes a total IT strategy review and a move from a fragmented model towards a more centralised approach.

This will include the reduction of the overall number of datacentres operated by the two firms, from six sites down to a primary facility plus a disaster recovery building - VT is a predominantly Cisco house, while Babcock operates a mixture of 3Com and Cisco equipment. Extensive use of server virtualisation and a revamp of the company's storage set-up are also expected.

"We have a blank canvas to work with. We are designing the platform to take the company forward from an IT perspective in the next five years - it is a major step change for the organisation," said Mudie.

Chris Mudie will be a panellist at 360IT - The Infrastructure Event at London Earl's Court on 23 September in the session "The Communication Revolution - An Expanding or Collapsing Universe?" For more information visit www.360itevent.com

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