Stagecoach drives towards a ‘cloud-first’ enabled network strategy with Node4
Node4 and Stagecoach
Digital Transformation Project of the Year
Entry Description
Stagecoach Group is the UK's leading multi-modal UK public transport company, with operations in England, Scotland and Wales. The Group operates bus, coach, rail, and tram services in regulated and deregulated markets. Stagecoach is the UK's biggest bus and coach operator, with 24,000 employees serving three million passengers every day across 100 major UK bus depots.

The company needed to be able to support both business growth and its increased adoption of cloud-based technologies. To ensure Stagecoach could progress with its cloud-first strategy, it required a combination of SaaS adoption and preparing core systems for the cloud; both of which need application routing control and extensive access to bandwidth.

To drive forward its digital transformation plans, Stagecoach replaced its legacy WAN infrastructure across 240 sites with a new SD-WAN based architecture provided by Node4.

Node4 was carefully selected based on bespoke design, extensive networking experience and being an early MSSP adopter of SD-WAN technology. Stagecoach has already begun to replace its current legacy copper network infrastructure and move to a high capacity fibre network across its 240 sites. This will reduce the overall cost of bandwidth. It will also allow Stagecoach to gain more control and capabilities, as the SD-WAN allows deployment across both MPLS and internet-facing access circuits, whilst optimising secure access.

“With so many sites to roll the SD-WAN technology out to, Node4 has been a huge help with ensuring the process is more efficient and effective on both sides. Our teams work in unison to come up with designs and configurations and migration strategies so that everyone is fully versed in the process before we implement the tech,” commented Graham.

Node4 has also enabled Stagecoach to implement its full suite of Office 365 collaboration technology to ensure that amidst COVID-19 and beyond, remote staff can keep working with a successful line of communication.

Quality of Management

Implementation of the SD-WAN started before the outbreak of COVID-19, but the pandemic and its restrictions meant that roll-outs had to be halted and rearranged. Given the mammoth task of rolling out this new connectivity across 240 sites in the UK, Node4 and Stagecoach had to meticulously plan together when and how this would work - even amidst a pandemic.

Andrew Clark, Group Technology Senior Project Manager at Stagecoach, said: “I myself have worked with Node4 in the past and even though Node4 has grown since then to more than 300 people strong, the team we work with on a day-to-day basis still has the same Node4 feel. Node4 does what it says on the tin and the team has been open and honest from the get-go, which is refreshing from a supplier and partner. This consistency is hugely important to us at Stagecoach for the future of our digital transformation journey.

“We have a great working relationship with Node4 that is built on true partnership
and ultimately works because both Stagecoach and Node4 are equally invested in delivering a world class solution for our customers. They want success for our business as much as we do.”

Graham Moore, Group Chief Information Officer at Stagecoach added: “I have been a Node4 customer previously and they’re the right fit for Stagecoach because, while SLAs and contracts are great, what you need to know is that you have someone who is there when you need them – and the team at Node4 are always there. With Node4 we get to utilise the best of the technology that we need to progress our digital transformation plans, as well as a valued partnership rather than a typical supplier/customer relationship.”

Return on Investment

There are three key areas where Stagecoach has and will continue to see benefits from working with Node4: collaboration, connectivity and security.

Stagecoach now has visibility of the applications and websites that are being accessed over the network and internet, due to the layer seven capabilities of the SD-WAN. This has allowed Stagecoach to prevent access to certain websites and prioritise traffic to ensure bandwidth is utilised for business usage.

“The new network will give at least 10x more bandwidth across every Stagecoach site, from <2MB to dual links that are now on average 20MB each. This will improve working life for employees at the depos significantly – before, the network was so slow that employees would have to kill time making a cup of tea while the system tried to boot up,” stated Graham.

“Working with Node4 is revolutionising performance, as we now have much more bandwidth to carry out innovative and business-driving projects,” Graham continued. “The bandwidth also plays into cost optimisation, which is a key factor for the business. By enabling us to implement collaboration technologies we were previously lacking, we will see a significant reduction in travel costs.”

Security is another key component of the benefits Stagecoach will reap from the partnership, as IT teams will be able to look into network traffic more, understand what apps are using more bandwidth than others, and give security the ability to block certain apps. Firewalls at the edge of every depot will be enabled for security around the perimeter, giving Stagecoach greater confidence and control.

There is also increased resiliency due to multi-supplier connectivity and resilient device setup on site. This has proven invaluable already, when Stagecoach was able to identify when a link went offline at a site, meaning the site wasn’t impacted.

“In the past this would have caused the site to go down, impacting the business and increasing calls to the desk,” said Graham. “Thanks to Node4, we were able to identify it quickly and bypass any downtime.”

“Another huge benefit the security team will see will be the added Layer 7 controls the new solution provides,” Graham said. “It doesn’t just have the ability to filter out unwanted elements, but also provides detailed visibility into traffic on the network that was not available previously. With the installation of Fortigate devices at every site, we are able to monitor and protect East and West traffic, providing additional protection if one site is compromised and preventing it from it spreading.”

Customer Benefits

Uptime is vital for any digital transformation initiative to work, as customers of Stagecoach expect their bus journey app to be reliable and efficient. As such, staying online is hugely important for Stagecoach, its employees and its customers. But using legacy infrastructure meant there was previously no way of automatically monitoring the entire estate.

This resulted in the IT team having no visibility into knowing if or when a site was down or struggling for bandwidth. This, in turn, could cause extended periods of downtime if not addressed, as the on-site teams had to manually check each site minute by minute, and the IT support team would only find out about any downtime once they were told.

“If the network goes down we aren’t able to schedule buses or update customers on whether their bus is coming,” said Graham. “It’s of paramount importance in today’s digitally-driven world that our customers using the app which tells them when a bus is due to arrive can expect this to be a reliable and consistent service. Because the app works on a national basis but takes a feed from every machine on every site and every bus, the network going down on one site removes the transitions of ticket data for those buses, which leaves essential functions blind.”

Graham continues: “We also needed to adapt quickly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, to be able to remain connected and collaborative from remote locations. We had only just rolled out Office 365 at the end of last year, and not yet used the capabilities of it fully. Implementing the proper processes and technologies for effective remote collaboration was high on the Stagecoach agenda.”

Summary of Success

As a large operation that serves over three million passengers every day, Stagecoach, with the support of Node4, has completely modernised its entire infrastructure. This means it can now support current and future digital transformation initiatives. It is paramount for Stagecoach that it stays at the cutting edge of the latest technology, in order to serve its customers the way they expect to be served in the modern digital world.

Rolling out SD-WAN for improved connectivity, collaboration tools and security across every depot in the UK means that Stagecoach can deliver on these expectations, and enables the business to further its digital transformation as digitally-driven consumer demands continue to evolve and grow. Plus, the IT team at Stagecoach can do this knowing they have the full support of the team at Node4, a partner that feels more like an extension of their own team, rather than a separate vendor.