Softchoice’s CIO Kevin Wright talks about using technology to stay ahead in tough times.
Q: From a cost-management perspective, how has the recession changed the way you do things as an IT organization?
A: With every crisis there’s an opportunity to innovate and be more efficient. And that’s how we approached it. We made it a priority to address the things we could control directly by focusing on three key areas: rent and power, travel and IT infrastructure.
And, as a solutions company, we really wanted to leverage the technology we sell to our customers to accomplish these goals.
Q: What specific technologies have helped with rent and power costs?
A: One of the things that really made a difference is virtualization. Virtualization lets us manage with fewer servers, demands much less data-center real estate, and consumes far less power.
Over the past eight months we’ve moved from 60 percent virtualization up to around 80 per cent. At one point we just said: this is what we are doing and really forced this change. It’s now so ingrained in the culture that if you want to add a physical sever, you need to make the business case.
The returns have been very favorable. We made some acquisitions recently and added three or four major applications to our stack but with virtualization we’ve been able to do this without adding servers.
There’s also the less obvious benefit of enabling a much more responsive IT department. Adding new apps to our system is no longer as time consuming or expensive. We just create a virtual environment and roll it out – no need to go through the hassle and expense of ordering and deploying new servers.
Implementing a centralized PC Power Management solution has also helped us reduce our utilities costs.
Q: Since Softchoice has more than 40 locations across North America, travel costs must be pretty significant. What have you done to address this issue?
A: This last year we’ve probably reduced expenses by about 60 per cent using a variety of tactics.
In our experience, the old-fashioned “don’t spend money” and getting on everyone’s case approach never works too well. What’s made us successful has been combining this mentality with some strategic IT investments – particularly with Microsoft – to give people other options besides getting on a plane.
For example, we deployed Office Communications Server (OCS). Along with OCS, in our major centres we have Polycom CX5000 – which was previously known as Roundtable, Microsoft’s flagship video conferencing solution – and SharePoint 2007, a powerful collaboration tool.
Q: Could you elaborate on how these have helped?
A: Sure. With OCS you can tell instantly who’s at their desk and who’s not. With one click, you can also message, email, set up a LiveMeeting, use video conferencing, collaborate on documents … it’s really quite a powerful and productive way to connect. For more formal meetings where you do want that feeling of being in the same room with people, Polycom CX5000 and Roundtable has been very impressive.
Generally, these technologies have had a big impact on travel costs while making our interactions more seamless; it’s a lot easier to access people and get together. Even in cases where we would never have travelled, the quality of the interaction has dramatically improved.
Q:The amount of data being exchanged over a standard network continues to grow. How have you kept that cost in line?
A: We use a product called River Bed, which compresses the packets of data flowing between points. This allows us to accommodate higher traffic requirements without adding more bandwidth.
Essentially the problem is there’s too much traffic on the highway and adding more lanes is too expensive. To use a metaphor, we just make the cars smaller and pack them closer together.
Q: Where do you see major changes happening in the future with Softchoice?
A: What we are focused on now is how to further reduce our telecom spend. And the next big area here, without a doubt, is taking our voice network and transitioning that to a VOIP environment. We’re also looking closely at desktop virtualization.
In general, I would say that innovation continues to play a huge role in keeping Softchoice ahead of the curve. While there are so many factors that go into ensuring our success, technology continues to hold many of the answers.