Cloud delivers results for Royal Mail

2nd Dec 2010

The Royal Mail not only succeeded in migrating its “creaking” messaging and collaboration software over to the Cloud 17% ahead of schedule and 11% under budget, but also saw a 30% rise in user satisfaction as a result of the move.

Moreover, Adrian Steel, head of infrastructure management at the postal service said at the Business Cloud Summit in London yesterday the business case for the shift was “relatively easy” to make because budget holders could see the benefit of not continuing to pay for rising amounts of email storage at a time when the business was cutting thousands of jobs.
“IT for the first time was joined up with the business because we could scale requirements up or down. IT had traditionally been seen as a disabler, with people waiting up to six for things, but the business case for this was relatively easy. We were still asking for money, but they could see the benefits,” he explained.
The company, which employs 170,000 staff across 160 sites, had about 100Tb of email data held in an ageing IBM Lotus Notes system running on an IT infrastructure that had not been upgraded for 10 years.
This meant that it was “creaking around the edges” with 30,000 users wasting time by having to wait 15 minutes to boot up their PCs in the morning. It also meant different parts of the business had significant challenges in communicating and collaborating effectively with each other.
But one of the key reasons for the success of the initiative was the high levels of planning that went into the move. To introduce Microsoft’s Software-as-a-Service-based Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) offering, a six month-long analysis phase was undertaken with the help of IT outsource provider CSC, which Royal Mail had hired in 2003, and Microsoft. The contract was based on shared liability, which resulted in a true three-way partnership arrangement.
Glyn Knaresborough, director of CSC’s Microsoft practice for the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “In any major IT project, the key is planning and preparation. The migration was relatively quick because we’d invested time and also allowed enough time to migrate. We also did a lot of stakeholder engagement in all three organisations because it was important to have all of the right people in place in case we needed to escalate things.”
While Royal Mail’s partners undertook the migration planning, the company itself handled the change management piece, which included explaining the changes to staff, training and bringing on champions as part of the core team.
“People like shiny things so if you’ve chosen your representative and they get a shiny new thing, everyone wants it. So you look like you’re not just giving the IT programme to them because they desperately want it,” Knaresborough explained.
Because of all of this preparation work, however, it took only 12 weeks to move 28,000 users with no resultant loss of data. Some 75% of users were migrated automatically at a rate of 750 per day and 2,000 at weekends, with 46% moving across in less than five minutes. The rest migrated with the help of a web portal.
The information necessary to undertake automatic migration was obtained by running a module that periodically asked users over the course of a couple of months for different information such as where they stored their files. This information was fed into a migration database, which undertook the move at the press of a button. It was then only necessary to deal with any exceptions on a case by case basis.
“We’d initially done the tests in IT to taste our own dog food and it tasted OK so then we did the first two thousand over the weekend and nothing,” said Steel. “Someone even phoned BT to ask if there was something wrong with the ‘phones and by 10am, we also phoned a few users to ask if everything was OK. But they asked why we were calling because the icon just turned up on their desktop.”

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