A proactive move pays off

A proactive move pays off

When Suncorp embarked on a trans-Tasman desktop integration project, it turned to Agile delivery principles.

Financial services group Suncorp has just completed a major desktop integration project across 50 locations in New Zealand, following its merger last year with Promina. The infrastructure project used Agile delivery principles more commonly associated with software development.

Using the Agile approach, Suncorp worked with Infosys to integrate and standardise more than 9000 desktops across the Promina group (which includes Vero, AAMI, Shannons, APIA, Tyndalls and AA Insurance.) These were brought in line with Suncorp’s existing desktop platform.

The project provided a single technology foundation for the merged business.

“We executed the integration project in short, sharp bursts with deployment occurring over 125 days and regularly checking progress to `course correct’ and ensure the project remained on track,” says Paul Cameron, Suncorp business technology infrastructure executive general manager.

Through a single domain login, the group’s 19,000 employees (2200 in New Zealand) can now access email, calendar, instant messaging and shared training programmes from any desktop computer in any country.

“A project like this is a big, hairy beast so we wanted a partner on board who knew their craft, was prepared to make decisions and stand accountable for the outcomes,” says Cameron.

“We’d worked with Infosys in 2006 to help create a standard operating environment for Suncorp, and felt very confident they could partner and do it again.”

The project went live in December 2008 and Suncorp says the partnership is yielding a strong return.

Despite the complexities of the programme, the design was completed in just seven weeks and delivered cost-effectively, as there was a repeatable model in place from Suncorp’s 2006 desktop rollout in Australia.

When it came to deployment, the plan was to execute as quickly as possible. “We leveraged Infosys’ selective offshoring model, which allowed up to 70 per cent of the deployments to happen offshore after hours,” says Cameron.

Across the Suncorp business there’s now a feeling that technology “just works”, says Cameron. Users have told him, “I am not sure what you did, but now it just seems to work.”

“That is a great accolade for such a broad project,” he says. “A project such as this brings a certain level of anxiety with it, so to be just receiving positive feedback from users so soon after deployment is a great outcome.”

Cameron says the desktop integration was part of an entire infrastructure upgrade that included storage and datacentres. “But the path that business users see is, of course, the desktop, which is the lens into technology.”

One of the consultants working with them on the merger said the integration might take up to three years and cost two-and-a-half times as much as they had planned.

“The longer you take to do something, the more the world changes and hence cost overruns occur,” says Cameron. The implementing team was well aware of the complexity involved, and prepared for it.

“When you try to merge two companies and two cultures, any disruptions can be quite serious. So that is why these kinds of projects are extremely difficult to execute. Also, you’ve got literally 30, 40, 50 different key stakeholders groups to appease. But we did it.”

“We had a very, very strong change management programme to ensure people understood how their work practises would change and how it would easily dovetail into their existing processes.”

The group had at least five email systems prior to the standardisation. Today, he says, “There is only one email and calendaring, now we have locked down all the desktops, but we have a very flexible software distribution system.”

Under the old system it was difficult to communicate across units, he says. Since there were different calendaring systems, some meetings booked across geographical boundaries did not match up or were ignored, he says. Staff could not find information because the group was running five different directories.

The team also rolled out IP telephony and deployed new versions of Office and a collaboration suite.

As to pointers on managing a large scale project, Cameron has this to say, “There are 52 ways to do technology, pick one.”

While this may sound simple, he says people often get caught up in the debate.

“The black box is equally as good as the blue box,” he says. “You can argue for as long as you like about the pros and cons, but you have to pick one and you have to upset some people and you have to make people happy. But at least you now set the direction.”

“Good leadership in technology is about setting directions and sticking to your guns.”

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