When leading UK recruitment website operator Reed Online decided to cut free from its corporate parent’s IT infrastructure last year, it chose to eliminate desktop computers as well as servers, replacing them with a mixture of Chromebooks, Chromeboxes and laptop PCs accessing a suite of cloud applications. Director of technology Mark Ridley, who added IT responsibilities to his existing role heading up development and operation of the reed.co.uk website, had an uncompromising list of requirements:
“We didn’t want a help desk, we didn’t want servers — we wanted as little on-premise responsibility as we could,” he says. “We came to the decision that we didn’t even need desktops in the business at all.”
Hence the decision to equip the 120-strong inside sales team with Chromeboxes — ‘headless’ computers that, like Chromebooks, run Google’s ChromeOS and which are designed to work with full-size monitors and keyboards. These have replaced Wyse thin clients that were running a Windows desktop using Citrix technology.
“Their line-of-business applications are Google Apps, Salesforce, NewVoiceMedia [a cloud-based contact center app]. Just with those few applications they’re getting by-and-large the things they need,” says Ridley.
The field-based account management team of 30 is already using laptops. The switch away from the less flexible Citrix infrastructure for the office-based team adds to mobility even though most of the time these users have a fixed workplace, says Ridley:
“For those users, saying they can use a mobile device or a tablet may not affect them, but there are advantages for DR [disaster recovery] and business continuity. We can handle that by re-routing calls into NewVoiceMedia. Essentially the desktop can follow users wherever they are.
“If we want to open a regional office, we can just send them some tablets. It gives us an enormous amount of flexibility,” he added.
“The question isn’t when is the mobile office going to come, it’s are the systems ready for it now?”
Other users have adopted either Chromebooks, laptops or PCs, depending on their job role. The old corporate Blackberrys were replaced with Android Nexus tablets so that employees could access Google Apps. Recently, a BYOD (bring your own device) programme was added to the mix.
“The core of the business is in website development,” explains Ridley. “In our product team there are 75-80 people who are there to develop the website — developers, marketing people, business and data analysts, data scientists.”
“By-and-large the policy is to embrace the best technology for the situation. Our developers and designers use PCs — we code in Visual Studio and SQL Server, so Windows is still in wide use in our product team — while our business and finance teams are still heavy users of Office — there’s still nothing to touch it for those users.”
Although the move to mobile devices adds flexibility, Ridley is not planning to introduce hotdesking or encourage homeworking in the website team. “I would strongly oppose a large movement not to be in the office — it’s very collaborative work,” he says.
At the same time, the ability to continue working after hours on a mobile device is important to this type of worker:
“Lots of our developers never stop thinking about work. They’re in Jive or Google Apps all the time. There’a a new generation of staff that don’t want to shut off at 5pm. They don’t see it as work, they see it as a social activity.”
Another advantage of a cloud-based infrastructure is the pay-as-you-go control it gives over spend, he believes.
“What this allows us to do is make a business call about what the appropriate software is,” he says. The business can decide what is needed and have it costed.
“We’ve been able to build a very granular price list of what the cost is per month … It’s not just budget, it also gives you a very good way of looking at a cost. It’s something you can turn off and on. It just gives you an incredible amount of control and flexibility.”
Ridley selected OneLogin’s single sign-on platform to provide a stable access point for the portfolio of around 15-20 cloud applications. “The old alternative would have been to give everyone 15-20 user IDs and passwords. The management overhead would have been very hard,” he says. “OneLogin was the first contract I signed.”
Security was an important consideration too, especially for a website operation whose core business is handling people’s CVs. “There were security issues with having people remember a large number of complex passwords. We wanted to make sure they only had to log in with one login.”
OneLogin was rolled out from mid October along with AirWatch mobile device management. The digitally savvy developers and product managers were the first users brought onboard, with Google Apps being the first new app on the system. Six months later, all users had been brought off the old Lotus Notes system onto Google.
“We are now at that tipping point where you have all the applications across the board that you would need,” says Ridley.
The company had already been using Salesforce for five years and NewVoiceMedia for three years. Other apps in use include Zendesk for internal support and a limited number of Box accounts for filesharing. Developers track projects using the cloud-hosted Atlassian Jira service, and the Jive collaboration system was rolled out in March.
Later this month, SAP Business ByDesign will go live, followed by a cloud-enabled ADP payroll system in September. The ByDesign cloud application was selected out of a field including Oracle, Sage and Dynamics GP. One of its winning features was its mobile support, says Ridley: “That consumerization piece was something that really resonated. It was a really compelling point.”
As well as finance, the SAP platform is also providing HR functions. “ByDesign I think has a lot of potential. It fits our requirements, it will be interesting to see how it grows in the market.”
Disclosure: SAP, Oracle and Salesforce.com are diginomica premium partners.
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