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A Digital Future in Forestry
When forestry business Coillte decided to update its ICT infrastructure, it turned to outsourcing with Digital Planet
Sean Kennedy, transformation programme director at Coillte, said the organisation faced challenges beyond those of the normal financial, HR and ERP-type applications. One of these is the scope of Coillte’s business.
“Coillte Forest has some very specific challenges due to the dispersed nature of our inventory — forests — and people. We are responsible for about six per cent of the land in Ireland, and therefore our people and businesses span the length and breadth of the country. Managing this activity in a connected way requires a reliable and connected infrastructure with high levels of availability.”
When it came to outsourcing, Coillte has three desired outcomes: improving service availability and reliability by simplifying delivery, reducing dependency on small numbers of key people, and reducing ongoing delivery costs and future capital costs.
Given these challenges, outsourcing was a natural decision.
“While we have a complex and distributed network and infrastructure, we don’t have the scale of ICT function appropriate to large banks or telcos, for instance; however, we still need to provide similar levels of service and availability,” said Kennedy.
“A key tenet of our strategy is to simplify our business wherever possible and so there were three main drivers of our outsourcing considerations. In addition, we felt that outsourcing to the right organisation would enable us to focus on our core business needs and also position us to take advantage of the right ‘as-a-service and cloud’ opportunities as they emerge.”
After a preliminary engagement, Coillte identified four areas it saw as suited to outsourcing: data centre hosting and disaster recovery facilities, help desk for level one and level two support, application support and infrastructure management.
After a comprehensive, competitive dialogue and tendering process, Coillte chose Digital Planet as its outsourcing partner.
“The decision was based on their track record, capability, cost and, probably most importantly, the ‘business and cultural fit’. It is important to me as a service provider that my outsource partner has the same delivery and customer ethos as I do. We found Digital Planet demonstrated a strong understanding of our issues and held many values which are consistent with our own,” Kennedy said.
Coillte also felt reassured that its business was taken seriously by Digital Planet.
“At the end of the day I felt I could lift the phone and talk to [operations director] Brian [Larkin] and his team and feel like my issues and needs mattered to them,” said Kennedy.
He added that Coillte was pleased with the result of its engagement with Digital Planet.
“Our initial challenge was to ensure all of our people were clear on what the transition meant for them and that they had a number of options available to them. I am pleased to say the people transition was extremely smooth with a number of people remaining, some moving on to new challenges and some joining Digital Planet.”
The initial transition of Coillte’s help desk was followed by data centre migration, a transfer completed with minimal business disruption. This exceeded expectations, said Kennedy.
“Yes, we had issues as you would expect during such a transition but all in all the migration was largely unnoticed by our business customers which was fantastic. Ongoing service is consistently meeting SLAs [service level agreements] and while, of course, we have issues as we get to understand each other better, we have consistently resolved them through good engagement, flexibility and cooperation,” he added.
The positive engagement with Digital Planet has resulted in Coillte looking at a services model for other ICT functions, including communications and network management.
Kennedy’s confidence has its foundations in his experience with Digital Planet and he said he recommended outsourcing, but added that businesses needed to be aware of what they were planning to do, consider why they wanted to do it and to choose their partner carefully.
For Coillte, part of this decision-making process was the recognition of how digital technology is changing business, something he said all businesses would eventually grapple with.
“The emergence of new delivery models will create new value creation opportunities over the next few years and I have no doubt that most, if not all, ICT organisations will partner to some extent to create their own optimum delivery model,” Kennedy said.
“It is important that focus remains on the business challenge and that the benefits you are looking for are realistic and clear to yourself and your potential partners. We worked hard on this with the Digital Planet team upfront and, in my view, it is the most essential part of the process.”
As this process results in critical IT services being handed over to partners, actions speak louder than contracts. “If you don’t arrive at a point where you feel you have trust and faith in your partner to be there for you when you need them and that they are capable of delivering on your expectations, then don’t progress. Service agreements, penalties etc, are of little consolation if you find you are unable to meet the needs of your business.”
Digital Planet, the cloud services arm of Evros, is Coillte’s cloud partner. Brian Larkin, managing director of Evros and operations director of Digital Planet, says the Coillte model is typical of what they deliver.
“Coillte opted for a private cloud model with a full range of managed service, service desk and application support. This is what we have built our company to deliver over the past six years and have become experts in the area of data migration, private and managed cloud delivery. This, I believe, is what helped us secure the contract with Coillte in the references we were able to provide to Coillte of similar large organisation who we had migrated on to our platform,” he said.
Larkin said the key to success was to ensure that the service was equal to or better than what customers experienced prior to the project. “While we work to ISO service delivery and security standards within Digital Planet, companies such as Coillte come with their own internal exacting standards that we also take into consideration and fully comply with when on-boarding a client to our private cloud platforms.”
Larkin explained that the end-user should not experience disruption to their daily activities: business as usual pre-, during and post-migration.
The future of cloud computing will be a combination of private, public and hybrid cloud, said Larkin, with the choices depending on the size of the organisation and scope of its projects.“
The larger organisations, such as Coillte, tend towards the private model as it usually allows them to continue to meet their own internal operational guidelines and standards. We do believe that the future of cloud in the enterprise space will come with significant managed services requirements which is what our service model is based upon,” he added.
June 2016 | The Sunday Business Post