As director of IT for Nilex in 2012 and 2013, I was faced with several organizational and business priorities. One was from a pure communications standpoint. Nilex had aging legacy systems and equipment spread out across their various locations, so job one was to consolidate the system and network so our people could communicate better with each other as well as with customers.
Beyond that, though, the company wanted a much more dynamic, more resilient system, particularly in the areas of scalability and availability, so their robust growth strategy could be supported. The existing system was very secure and had some redundancy, but both areas could be improved, and system availability simply wasn’t enough. Since the network has now grown from four to six sites and beyond, I’d say Allstream’s HCS solution has met these goals.
Allstream’s HCS (Hosted Collaboration Solution) is an all-in-one suite of advanced UC applications that’s delivered on their MPLS network and hosted from a Tier 3+ data centre. The centre is manned 24 x 7 x 365, providing secured physical access and state-of-the-art UPS and generator backup. On the user end, the experience is truly simple and superior, and since it’s all cloud-delivered, it’s far most cost-effective than implementing a similar on-premise system.
Of course, the success of a complex solution is never certain in the beginning, and IT sometimes has trouble building the business case for management. With Nilex, however, my business case was built in—management was actually insisting we improve the communications systems, which made it easy to do the research, look at the options and make a recommendation. We considered several vendors, but Allstream was highly knowledgeable—about our business and the IT innovation space in general—and genuinely interested in helping us succeed. After I’d hashed it out with them, I was able to come back to the table and say, confidently, “This isn’t cheap, but the results will be exceptional.”
When it came to implementation, our IT department has an extensive mission statement covering proper planning procedures and performance expectations. We held to this as a basic guide, planning out the system from the ground up and identifying our needs. We felt it was critical to get the core requirements in place and get everyone used to it before bolting on the extras—things like Jabber, paging, mobility, teleworking and portability features. Now we’re continuing to expand, and the system makes it easy to regularly roll out new features.
Again, the fact that the resources aren’t on-site has made roll-outs simple. Training’s as basic as using a phone, and the move to MPLS was accomplished by unplugging the old router and plugging in the new one. Nothing is 100% problem free, but we felt that our issues received more than adequate response and redress. When there was a recent problem during our head office move, there were people on top of the molehill before it became a mountain.
The key to planning and executing a project like this is to have a set of best practices to work from before you start, and follow it. List what you want—both hopes and expectations—from the ground up, and don’t make assumptions. If you’re strong on the details, the whole will take shape as you want, and your challenges will be more easily overcome.