How the cloud found Mitchells & Butlers

The cloud was found to be a good fit for hospitality company Mitchells & Butlers after it approached IT providers with a set of outcomes

The cloud was found to be a good fit for hospitality company Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) after it approached the IT service provider community with a set of outcomes rather than a list of technology requirements.

M&B, which owns hospitality brands such as Harvester, O'Neill's and All Bar One, is currently completing a project to harness a private cloud infrastructure with Fujitsu. 

Martin Taylor, head of service delivery and infrastructure at M&B, said the project was a big step for the company after years of underinvestment in IT. 

“My team and our suppliers have united to think big and be bold in the delivery of the [project] and I want to make sure we do this justice,” he said.

Mitchells & Butlers wanted to replace its 20-year-old tills with new payment devices, including mobile, improve workplace communications, and provide customers with Wi-Fi access. 

My team and our suppliers have united to think big and be bold in the delivery of the project

Martin Taylor, Mitchells & Butler

Other updates included replacing a voucher-based loyalty scheme with a web-based version. The company will also enable web-based bookings on its own site rather than through third-party suppliers.

In the past 11 months, it has moved the corporate network, upgraded the outlet network, moved datacentres, implemented cloud technologies, virtualised 85% of all applications, and is in the process of implementing a Wi-Fi service to 1,600 outlets.

Choosing the right IT service provider

Taylor said as an outsourced IT organisation, Mitchells & Butlers went out to market when it needed upgrading. 

Using the services of KPMG sourcing consultancy Equaterra, the company embarked on a five-month journey to select a supplier. Presented with a list of outcomes, five of the six suppliers, including its incumbent IBM, came back with cloud-based offerings. It chose a private cloud service from Fujitsu.

“We wanted to think about outcomes rather than go looking for certain technologies,” said Taylor.

The project

Mitchells & Butlers defined all of its technology into six domains: datacentre, network, outlet, applications management, end user computing, and service centre. 

It prioritised the datacentre and network because they are the IT foundations and the company’s outsourcing agreement with IBM was due for renewal.

Project timeline

  1. October 2011: New MPLS network with higher bandwidth completed.
  2. October 2011: Cable the estate and implement an outlet Wi-Fi service.
  3. November 2011: New ADSL for outlets.
  4. December 2011: New Fujitsu datacentre infrastructure implemented and testing of virtualisation commenced.
  5. March 2012: Moved all virtualised applications to the new Fujitsu datacentre.
  6. May onwards: Enable free guest Wi-Fi, starting with Harvester.

How Mitchells & Butlers virtualised

  1. Generated a fully resilient virtual environment linked to a storage area network.
  2. Used Platespin to assess each application and size it.
  3. Tested each application on the new infrastructure using a copy of live data. 
  4. At cutover picked up the data and moved it to live and then processed as normal to catch up.
  5. Redirected the network to the new services.

After 15 years of underinvestment, the company realised it needed to upgrade. After engaging with six suppliers, Taylor said it was debatable whether it found the cloud or if the cloud found Mitchells & Butlers. 

Due to the business requirements and age of M&B's technology, he said, five out of the six suppliers recommended a private cloud with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).

The cloud enables M&B to manage the cost base in line with the size of the business, moving to flexible costs rather than fixed, and provides it with the ability to scale up and down when required without extra costs or new contracts. The internal IT department manages third parties to deliver.

Challenges of moving to the cloud

The project (see side panel) began in October 2011 and is due for completion in May 2012. 

Taylor said understanding the cloud and getting buy-in from the internal team and service partners were major challenges. He added that getting hold of people with the right knowledge and skills was also a challenge, as was building an understanding their own applications, which were 15 years old and had been customised over time.

Time was also a challenge. The firm runs its IT 24 hours a day because outlets open at 7am and close at 2am, and batch runs are done between 10pm and 8am. It also had to move all applications at once because of their interdependencies.

Benefits for customers and staff

Taylor said there have been unplanned advantages, such as increased performance of applications, licence savings, improved disaster recovery, reduced costs in test environments, and improved speed for getting new services up and running. 

He said the success of the private cloud project could pave the way to the public cloud. “This is a stepping stone. Having virtualised it means we can go public in the future if the circumstances are right, [but] at the moment the plan is to stay private.”

Now that the bulk of the project is complete, the company can start to reap the benefits. 

It is in the process of turning on free Wi-Fi so guests can access the internet, e-mail, receive promotional offers and access social media. Guests will also benefit from updated front office systems that aim to improve booking processes, finding tables and managing orders. Mitchells & Butlers is also introducing customer relationship management technologies.

Meanwhile, 34,000 staff will benefit from improved systems in the outlets, while complexity will be removed from systems in the back office.



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