Case study: Specsavers switches email from open source to Google

Specsavers has switched from an open source email system to Google Apps to deliver email and collaboration without requiring local IT support.

Specsavers has switched from an open source email system to Google Apps to deliver email and collaboration without requiring local IT support.

Over the past few years, the high street optician has expanded into new regions including Asia-Pacific, Australia and northern Europe. The retailer needed a flexible service to enable this expansion, and has used Red Hat Linux and open source store systems to lower the cost of software licensing as it grows globally.

However, while open source is a cheap option because there is not a licence fee, expanding into new regions still requires investment in IT staff and infrastructure.

Cloud computing using Google changes the dynamics, making it more cost effective to use the commercial Google product than an open source system, as deployment is simpler and fewer regionally based IT staff are required.

Karl de Bruijn, European IT director for Specsavers, said, "Google gives Specsavers the ability to roll out to new countries rapidly, leveraging a cloud infrastructure without significant investment."

The company previously used Scalix, a Linux-based enterprise email platform. But this needed to be installed on servers within each region Specsavers operated in. "We wanted to grow within a country. Open source is cost-effective, but we still needed in-country support. Cloud computing minimises the cost of offering email," de Bruijn, said.

He said, "We saw that with Google, you are not only investing in Google apps, you also get the ability to access a significant cloud environment and what this offers."

Among the benefits of Google, according to de Bruijn, is its ability to work on both Android devices and the Apple iPad. "Google integrates very simply with Android and the iPad. It is plug and play. You don't need a corporate system for hardware. You just use a browser [on these devices]. This makes us very flexible from a user perspective."

Specsavers has a strong track record of innovating with open source and has contributed to open source development. But the Google cloud is set to be a strong component of its future IT strategy. "Google is developing a fantastic application. There are other very strong products in the market - but with these you actually buy a product that is delivered through the cloud. With Google, you're buying into the Google philosphy."

He added, "Our long-term strategy is to use Google cloud to support our retail platform. This is the first step to understand cloud so our team can be fluent in cloud technology."

Google Apps has been rolled out to 480 users across Hungary and Asia-Pacific. The pilot site in Hungary, a lens manufacturing facility producing 50,000 lenses a day took just a few weeks to deploy. There is just one IT staff member on site.

From February Specsavers will roll out Google to 2,500 users. "It is one of those projects that is very straightforward. The biggest challenge is change management, to get people comfortable with the new email system," de Bruijn said.

Google Apps will be used by corporate users to collaborate across the organisation. de Bruijn said, "We will have an environment where cross-functional teams can share documents and spreadsheets."

Beyond the corporate function Specsavers is also looking at using Google in its retail operations. "We will be looking at offering corporate functions to the retail franchise to deploy productivity applications to a store."

Ahold, the international food retailer is the largest user of Google Apps in retail, with 55,000 accounts and 25 Gbytes per user. In the UK Ocado is also a user.

Specsavers and Ancoris

Specsavers used Ancoris, a specialist provider of cloud computing and enterprise security, to assess and deploy Google.

While consumers with Android phones will be aware of the Android Marketplace, Google also operates a Google Apps marketpalce for corporate applications, based on the Google Application Engine. Ancoris managing director David McLeman said that through the marketplace, Ancoris was able to source a suitable application tool from CTS, for migrating data from Scalix into Google.

He said, "We are migrating data from each country email server into the cloud, We integrate with Microsoft Active Directory and LDAP to manage directory structure," This supports role-based access, such as allowing anyone within the UK HQ to see a particular collaboration site, which cannot be seen by the rest of Specsavers.

Specsavers will also be using Google Sites, to develop its corporate intranet, allowing content to be produced by non-IT people.

Read more on Web software