CIO interview: Paul Freemantle, IT director, Arqiva

As the delivery of internet content to televisions grows, Arqiva's IT strategy is focused on demands for models such as IPTV

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As the delivery of internet content to televisions becomes standard, the IT strategy at broadcast infrastructure provider Arqiva is focused on helping meet corporate client needs and customer demands for emerging models such as IPTV.

IT director Paul Freemantle is in the implementation stage of a transformation strategy set out when he joined the company in 2011. His task also includes changing the approach of the technology department when delivering IT answers to business requirements – though he says he is “not looking to reinvent the wheel.

“The idea is to make IT more relevant as a service function – if we are not relevant, what is the point? 

"We try and recruit people with a service mindset, making the approach more delivery-focused,” Freemantle told Computer Weekly.

"We are trying to keep doing what we are doing, but with more of a service focus. And we have to remember that as a service department, we are here to support the business and IT is not a means itself but a tool.”

Responding to IPTV demands

One of the key areas for Freemantle’s team is supporting Arqiva’s IPTV capability. Following the closure of SeeSaw, the video on-demand service born out of BBC-led Project Kangaroo late last year, the company bought Connect TV, which uses Freeview's set-top devices to access online video content.

With Connect TV, Arqiva will be able to blend its digital terrestrial television services with streamed video content. While the acquired firm is fully integrated into Arqiva’s IT estate, the company is also making additional efforts towards more of an “IPTV-ready” infrastructure in the coming months.

"People at home watch TV very differently to what they used to. So, IPTV will be about giving people more choices around programmes to watch through the red button and get access to all manner of services,” says Freemantle. 

"That said, the IT estate we have has to be exploited to spin up the server technology in double-quick time."

If you introduce too much change, you may fail precisely because of that – too much IT-led change can be a bad thing. So you need a very well-defined roadmap and governance

Paul Freemantle, Arqiva

To address that, Arqiva has built a new datacentre using Vblock, the joint-engineered pre-built system platform from VMware, Cisco and EMC (VCE), which, according to the IT director, was costly – but a worthwhile expense.

“The [IPTV] solutions will be delivered from our new datacentre and the Vblock in particular. As usual, the biggest challenge is trying to ensure the environment is secure but workable,” Freemantle says.

“As a product, Vblock can be seen as more expensive to acquire than the individual components but with reduced time to get fully operational and a quality management system, we believe the extra cost is more than mitigated by the reduction in opex [operating expenditure] and the ease and speed to spin up new services.”

Improving internal collaboration

To give better tools to staff, Freemantle included two core projects in his overall plan: improvements in the wide area network (WAN) and another deliverable – more visible to staff – which is a full desktop upgrade.

“The WAN improvement is simple in that we are trying to ensure that whichever site our colleagues may be on, the performance they can have is consistent whether connected via Wi-Fi or cabled,” says Freemantle.

At desktop level, Arqiva recognised that the user experience needed to be improved, so the transformation programme will upgrade desktops delivering not just standard Windows 7 and Office 2010 but a Jabber client, including instant messaging, internet protocol phones and WebEx conferencing.

“All of this helps in providing a much more collaborative environment for Arqiva employees and trying to ensure people have the right tools to do their job,” he says.

Another project that is also related to providing better technology tools to staff is the introduction of a bring your own device (BYOD) approach

This is supported by Good Technology’s secure client, which will be rolled out to employee-owned devices such as smartphones and iPads.

“We recognise that BYOD is a growing need for the business and we needed to deliver something secure, easy to deploy and manage. Since we started providing tools to allow people to work when and where they want, the feedback so far has been extremely positive,” says Freemantle.

Initially, Arqiva only offered corporate email and access to some internal applications. But the intention is to continue deploying software within the BYOD environment – possibilities include using Smart Office to allow editing of Microsoft-type documents.

Managing legacy

Given that Arqiva grew through various acquisitions and parts sold by organisations including the BBC, BT and National Grid, it manages a massive portfolio of legacy applications which deliver the same – or similar - functionality. The IT strategy gives special consideration to these systems and also their value to the business.

“It is difficult to phase everything out in a very short period of time, but at the very least you need to have a roadmap. We can’t do it overnight, but at least we have a plan,” Freemantle says.

“As with most organisations it all starts with a business strategy and we then ensure that the application strategy supports that and then the technology platform is there to deliver the new application environment,” he says.

“The application roadmap we put in place sought to address this – aligning to the business aspirations for more growth, targeting the solutions that would give a solid base to build on. The technical roadmap was developed by using heat maps to understand where we needed to make improvements soonest.”

At the application layer, Arqiva has focused on Oracle as its main back-office system - the objective here is to ensure the functionality of that platform is fully exploited, so the legacy applications – and the equipment on which they run – can be reduced.

Driving business change

As well as handling new projects and the need for modernisation, the hardest task for Arqiva’s 130-strong IT department, according to Freemantle, is to help the business keep up with the change introduced by technology advancements.

"The most difficult part of the job is getting the business to absorb the change without it causing too much turbulence since they also have their day job to do. For the IT department it is easier since we can buy expertise or the technology we want,” says Freemantle.

"But if you introduce too much change, you may fail precisely because of that – too much IT-led change can be a bad thing. So you need a very well-defined roadmap and governance to do these things and sometimes, you may have to bite the bullet and shelve or defer projects because the business is not ready for change,” he says.

When introducing change and creating a strategy with business peers, however, Freemantle’s advice is to never over-promise.

“The trouble with business-IT interactions is that you can end up advertising too much and then not meeting expectations. People want to generally do the right thing and be cooperative, but if you say yes too often you can fall in your own trap.”

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