By Jennifer O'Brien, CIO
Feb. 15, 2017 -- When global consulting engineering firm, GHD Australia, merged with North American engineering consultancy Conestoga-Rovers & Associates (CRA) back in 2014, the work to morph and blend operations was just the beginning.
Established in 1928, GHD operates across five continents – Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America – and the Pacific region, and employs more than 8500 people in over 200 offices.
With its latest acquisition of CRA, GHD had four main challenges: to achieve rapid deployment of brand networking solutions at a lower cost; ensure seamless collaboration amongst project teams spread across the globe; provide employees at 50 new remote sites with access to GHD’s complex network of applications, services and cloud environment; and reduce time and cost to maintain remote office networking solutions.
In a nutshell, it needed to add 3,000 employees in 100 offices, including 50 small sites. Sound simple? Not according to project sponsor, Elizabeth Harper, GHD’s CIO, who was tasked with integrating all the new offices and their IT systems into the wider GHD business.
She said her North American team did a phenomenal job in successfully leading the implementation of the solution in such a short time frame.
“Some of the new sites were geographically dispersed across the US and Canada, designed to be as close to their clients as possible. At the same time, the new offices needed instant access and connectivity to the GHD network globally so employees can collaborate in real time.”
As such, GHD decided to implement RiverBed’s SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) solution, SteelConnect, in order to get what Harper said was a simple, cost-effective solution to enable the rapid deployment of the new sites onto the company’s network.
It is an app-defined SD-WAN solution that simplifies networking for the cloud-centric enterprise – to enable the rapid deployment of 50 new offices onto the company’s network, fuelling stronger global collaboration, business agility and reducing global telecom costs by 75 per cent.
"It’s not the hardest thing I have ever done, however it was a very crucial project for the business. The main challenges included realising our strategy to enable our people to work together and collaborate seamlessly regardless of location, and providing a solution that was cost effective, easy to stand up and simple to maintain," she said.
"It would have been possible to do it via alternative technologies, however the systems from Riverbed made this project feasible, streamlined and cost-effective."
Several benefits surfaced thanks to the deployment, namely: zero-touch, rapid deployment of small offices onto GHD’s network (50 offices deployed in four weeks); simplified global collaboration; and reduced management, maintenance and telephony costs.
"The successful integration of these smaller offices is a game changer as they now have the standard GHD operating environment and reliable connectivity to colleagues around the world. This enables us to realise our strategy – having people based close to our clients and able to access the broader capabilities of a global company."
Harper said the company is now also able to connect directly into the public cloud networks, and get greater business agility thanks to the partnership with Riverbed. The SteelConnect technology can connect direct into public cloud networks such as Microsoft Azure and AWS.
“GHD’s use of emerging technologies and our ability to respond quickly to client demands is how we differentiate ourselves in the market, and Riverbed has been a trusted strategic partner in our success,” she said.
“The Riverbed platform has enabled us to optimise our network traffic, given us greater visibility of what's actually happening across our network and application environment so we can continue to achieve great performance, and it’s helped us simplify our branch office implementations – all of which are critical to driving the evolution of our business and our ability to serve our clients.”
Indeed, the company, which operates in the global markets of water, energy and resources, environment, property and buildings, and transportation, has a complex IT landscape, Harper said, noting it leverages 3,000 business and technical applications, and includes GHD’s own private cloud.
Using SteelConnect, GHD dramatically reduced the cost of network design and deployment, and was able to connect all 50 of the smaller offices in four weeks, Harper said, explaining if the company had chosen a traditional networking approach, the project would have taken at least three months to complete.
“We did a really thorough assessment of the options in the market and what we found with SteelConnect was a very low, almost zero-touch deployment. It allows us to preconfigure a device using a cloud portal before delivering it to the physical site. This means that a non-IT person at the small office can follow simple instructions, plug the device in and have everything up and running in minutes instead of days or weeks.”
So what’s next? Harper said the company plans to expand the deployment to traditional and larger offices, and estimates the solution will save the business roughly US$1 million a year.
"We are assessing larger offices that may benefit from SD-WAN features. SD-WAN is also the basis for our ‘office in a box’ system, which we transport to project sites and deploy rapidly. This solution enhances our ability to service our clients, especially in remote locations," she said.
“What this technology has done is enable us to cost-effectively connect people who wouldn't have had this type of connectivity in the past, and they now really feel like they’re part of the same organisation. They have access to all of our broader systems, and can make a VoIP call to anyone in GHD globally, or collaborate using intensive 3D modelling applications. This has made a tremendous cultural impact.”
Asked what it's like being involved in these huge global projects, where you need to add 3,000 people and include 50 small sites, she said it's what keeps her coming back for more.
These sorts of challenges are why I come to work every day. Deploying a technology solution on a global scale to achieve a business outcome while minimising disruption to day-to-day operations is exactly what’s expected from an effective IT team. It also shows how the selection of appropriate hardware supports and enables the company’s broader performance and strategic goals."