Skilled messaging rebuild tells of pain, gain

Labour hire company Skilled Engineering has completely overhauled its messaging infrastructure, a project its CIO Ken Matthews describes as a story of pain and gain.

"E-mail had become the chief means of communication within the company but it had become unreliable which made us look inefficient to customers," he said.

Total cost of ownership was also an issue as the company's 22 soon-to-be-retired messaging servers were a constant source of trouble and required unsustainable levels of intervention from the IT team.

Matthews was also frustrated by limited functionality and the nature of the company's core business - to supply an on-demand and flexible workforce - means a robust data communications network is critical.

Spread over 90 sites, the company was in need of an overhaul with Matthews admitting it was the biggest IT project to be undertaken in years and is being used to show the way for future technology refreshes and other infrastructure projects.

The company worked with carriers to reform its WAN and selected Microsoft Exchange 2003 to replace the current messaging infrastructure reducing its servers from 22 to two.

"We actually considered three options; one was to completely outsource, find a third-party to build a new system or go with Microsoft," Matthews said.

Avanade then began work on the project.

"Avanade's assessment products were important because we wanted an external agency to confirm our own thinking about the problems with our infrastructure, and then leverage its experience to get the right solution," he said.

"The assessment identified opportunities to make savings through server consolidation in terms of both hardware and licensing costs." The new messaging system uses Exchange Server 2003, Active Directory and Windows SharePoint Services.

Matthews said more than 900 PCs were also upgraded with Outlook 2003; another new application uses e-mail to automate distribution and processing of timesheets for contract workers, which is part of the company's core business.

Senior executives are also using the new system which has been adapted to provide remote access to e-mail using BlackBerry's wireless devices.

"When we first started looking at this project we thought messaging wasn't a core application; but as it progressed we realised the extent to which we relied on it," Matthews added.

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