INFINITY IT Solutions support the UK’s largest manufacturer in steel storage products, delivering a unified communications suite.
Digital Transformation Project of the Year
Operating for eighty years, The Whittan Group have achieved revenues of over £200m per annum, employing more than 1,000 staff. Whittan don’t just manufacture, they cover project management and design for bespoke requirements. They operate in several UK locations with additional operations in Spain, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Over the years, Whittan have added sections of their business through acquisition and growth. Leading to a mix and match estate of IT systems, phone systems and forms of connectivity, differing from site to site.
Whittan were suffering from poor, unreliable internet connections across the sites meaning staff suffered from slow internet speeds, hampering their ability to work. They were also unable to benefit from modern versions of technology such as cloud-based systems. They were in a position where should the internet fail there was no backup plan in place to ensure a quick recovery.
Another issue was the management of their security appliances, network and firewalls at each site. Having a multitude of appliances from different vendors led to multiple support contracts and different settings at each site. A logistical nightmare when workers try to work from different locations, and a technical headache when trying to update settings, not to mention managing the contract renewals. The group needed to unify all of their sites security appliances and manage it on a single platform, remotely.
The third issue that Whittan faced was telecoms. Each site had a differing phone system, ranging from ISDN, on premise PBX systems, right to multiple PSTN lines to operate. Whittan needed a system connecting all sites together to allowing comms to flow between sites, which was scalable and feature rich.
Initially, INFINITY were asked to discuss and propose a new telephony solution for The Whittan Storage Group in the UK.
Whittan needed to modernise their workspace and increase mobility. They needed a telephony solution that could join all UK sites together, allowing them to be managed from a single platform and reduce very high call costs between sites, not to mention the costs associated with keeping in contact with customers.
Our pre-proposal checks we uncovered a number of challenges that would affect any possible hosted telephony offering.
Hosted telephony systems depend heavily on two things - connectivity and networks. Both were highlighted as weaknesses. INFINITY’s solution was not just to provide a new telephony system; it was to provide reliable and fast forms of connectivity with failover backup lines to give continuity, and also to provide secure network appliances in the form of Cisco Meraki firewalls to give Whittan a platform-wide management layer to their networks.
The solution was therefore to increase their connectivity to have uncontested leased lines to each of their main UK sites with an FTTC line as failover. This would give them the speeds of connection required to operate and to grow, as well the opportunity to benefit from cloud-based technologies such as VoIP. It also gave the business a disaster recovery plan for connectivity, by having the backup line.
The enhanced connectivity would then be managed by the new network and firewalls. The chosen firewalls from Cisco Meraki are capable of having multiple internet lines presented to them and either load balance the lines or use one as a main line and one as a backup line for fail over purposes. The network appliances proposed were also cloud managed meaning all sites network and firewall settings could be centrally-managed remotely and that site visits were not required.
The final part of the solution was the telephony; a VoIP offering backed by BT and Daisy, utilising their HVSelect platform to host the system, with INFINITY wrapping around a managed service to provide 24hour cover and assistance. This fitted the requirement perfectly, allowing it to be scalable, allowing staff to be mobile and versatile with the features brought with it, and for it to converge all existing sites and systems onto one manageable platform.
Having identified connectivity as a weakness, the project team discovered what connections were available at each site and tailored the speed requirement depending on number of users at the site and the amount data usage. INFINITY also wanted to ensure there was resilience and redundancy of connectivity to protect Whittan against outages. INFINITY guaranteed that our proposed new services were from different internet service providers and connected from different exchange points so that if one was to have a problem the other was separate, so true redundancy was provided.
INFINITY saw the network as a potential obstacle, as what was in place would need to be depended on for all data and voice traffic going forward at each site. Due to the increased dependence on the network, INFINITY believed that visibility and manageability were both hugely important and would be needed from the centralised IT team at Whittan. INFINITY therefore negated this issue within the solution by putting forward Cisco Meraki cloud managed firewalls. This allowing each site to be managed remotely and give granular visibility to the networks at the same time as enhancing security. The new network equipment also allowed the Whittan team to manage setting and create VLANS across all sites to manage the data and voice traffic on their networks.
INFINITY also worked with Whittan in creating their own bespoke phone system that would link 5 of their UK sites together. Every number and number range were accounted for at each of the sites. These were documented and associated to people, groups and roles. The new system was then built to mirror the existing system that was in place across all sites, but on the single platform. All auto attendants were redeployed, all hunt groups, call centres and pickup groups were created with individual users assigned and forwards in place where needed. Business and non-business hours were configured, voicemails set, and individual directories uploaded.
INFINITY pre-deployed the new system side-by-side the existing, so that on the day of port all 5 sites could migrate seamlessly with minimal downtime. During the migration INFINITY had engineers at each site, to ensure any issues could be negated immediately. INFINITY also provided training to ‘power’ users at Whittan on the phone system as well as providing all users individual user guides and electronic user guides for their new phones and softphones.
The biggest benefit the client obtained was the amalgamation of on-premise and cloud solutions, as they were able to enjoy the best elements of both. They had invested in physical assets in the form of firewalls that had value to the business and could be taken with them or reutilised when required. At the same time, they had taken the management of their IT systems, network and telecoms and moved them into a secure hosted cloud environment. The in-house team were now able to manage multiple locations and hundreds of users from a single location with exceptional visibility of what was happening on each endpoint or device. Both efficiency and productivity have inevitably gone up due to this.
INFINITY were also able to add huge value and provide business continuity as part of the solution with an immediate return to service by offering backup lines from different internet service providers and exchange points from the main line.
Mobile working has been modernised and the network security of Whittan has been enhanced due to the new solution incorporating more advanced firewalls. Previously temperamental VPN connections caused hinderance for all remote workers but now all remote workers can securely VPN in using a windows client on their device, quickly and easily. The network has also meant that workers in the factory can enjoy the new phone system on mobile devices making them more contactable. The upgrades to this setup have allowed for virtual LAN’s to be created to ensure voice and data are kept separate to ensure QOS on all calls while still going out over one internet line, streamlining the business voice and data traffic.
A benefit that was desired was cost saving, even Whittan hadn’t expected quite the reduction in operating costs! Their phone bills on a traditional PBX had been astronomical and the VoIP system created massive savings. The call costs alone of their previous systems cover the entire new phone system and more. Also, the ease to transfer calls, ability to use the soft phone on their PC’s and their mobiles has made mobility possible. Staff are now able to do this in a far more secure way with users able to work from anywhere, any time, on any device.
Summary of benefits:
• Modernised cloud-based systems and VoIP
• Fast and reliable connectivity
• Failover backup lines for continuity
• Secure network appliances (Cisco Meraki firewalls) - platform wide management layer
• 24 hour cover and assistance
• Significant decrease in costs
• Increased productivity and efficiency
Whittan’s IT Infrastructure Manager, Darren said: “INFINITY went above and beyond to find the perfect solution for our business; the key challenge being multiple mismatched phone systems and poor internet connectivity between sites, hampering our ability to work efficiently. The key benefits and value of the project came from the amalgamation of on-premise and cloud solutions, business continuity solutions and mobility solutions for remote workers; all of this resulting in an impressive overall cost saving for the business, confidence in our systems & security and a boost in productivity. I would have no hesitation in recommending INFINITY IT Solutions.”