Virtualising a large business is not an easy journey to make, but it will ultimately pay off, according Suncorp Group enterprise engineering general manager, Terry Powell.
Powell spoke about the banking institution’s own experiences in virtualising at Gartner’s 2012 APAC IT Infrastructure, Operations and Data Centre Summit in Sydney, and shared some of the best practises and lessons learned during the process.
While Suncorp has been in the process of virtualising for several years now, 2011 was significant as it was focused on BYOD, work from home, unified communications and the SuncorpCloud.
Powell highlighted that automation and self-service was a big focus behind virtualising, as anything that needs to be done more than once should somehow become automated to saw time and effort.
This need to streamline was demonstrated by Suncorp having to process approximately 100,000 insurance claims from 2010 to early 2011 due to the numerous natural disasters that struck the nation.
“With the Brisbane CBD closed, 5000 Suncorp employees had to work from home,” Powell said.
“We had to get 500 desktop computers built and shipped while hundreds of claims staff were sent all over the country.”
Excessive flooding meant that major call centres were closed in Toowoomba and Milton, which left Suncorp scrambling to find ways to effectively support their customers, and crisis management response units were dispatched to assist with this.
Beyond dealing with volumes of claims and the aftermath of the natural disasters, Powell highlighted that the banking institution also had more general drivers for change.
He pointed to a need for change in work habits, smarter work environments, and operational efficiencies.
Cost of managing existing desktop fleet, faster release times and better business continuity were some other needs mentioned by Powell.
Some of the key lessons that Suncorp learned from its own implementation efforts was that that canned architecture does not work, innovation and development are prerequisites, and good partners are a must.
“It is also important to ‘eat your own dog food,’ or in other words, to have your team gets the solution first to rigorously test it before implementation,” Powell said.
Some of the requirements Suncorp set for its virtualisation needs was that it had to be a “full desktop experience” that was still “lower cost than physical,” all the while providing support for the whole organisation.
“It needs to have a consistent user experience, and personalisation is also key,” Powell said.
What enabled Suncorp to virtualise was that the company was agile, possessed drivers for change, pursued engineering and innovation, and had its core foundations completed before implementation.
Some of the challenges it faced included dealing with multi-vendor solutions and implementing services such as IP telephony and voice, live video, and printing.
WAN optimisation was also highlighted as a challenge, as was finding the right people with skills and resources.
“You also have to content with the perceptions people have of performance with virtualisation, as well as the budget to adequately implement the solution,” Powell said.
However, an effective rollout has meant that Suncorp is reaping benefits such as operational efficiencies and flexibility.
“We now are at a point where our staff are able to use their desktop anywhere,” Powell said.
In particular, virtualistion is being used to great effect to manage Suncorp’s business technology, real estate, human resources, finance, procurement and marketing.
When looking where to go next, Powell highlighted further implementation of virtualisation in banking, personal insurance, commercial insurance, the chief financial office, and group legal.
“Suncorp is always looking for ways to provide continuous automation and self service,” he said.
“To that end, we will continue to support BYOD, virtual desktop and additional user devices, work on unified communications and look for ways to improve the user experience.”