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SNS UK Data storage and IT management: Deduplication, data deduplication, deduplication software
Compliance, consolidation and (business) continuity have been major challenges in recent times, and key to meeting these successfully has been the company's relationship with value added reseller, S3.
SNS: Where is Ipsos MORI in terms of the size of the organisation and the background of the business?
IM: Ipsos MORI, part of the Ipsos Group, is a leading UK research company with global reach. We specialise in 5 areas of research, covering Advertising (brand equity and communications); Loyalty (customer and employee relationship management); Marketing (consumer, retail & shopper and healthcare); MediaCT (media and technology) , and finally Social & Political Research and Reputation Research.
Ipsos MORI is known for its focus on quality, something that sets us apart from our competitors. For example, we were the first UK Market Research Company to sign up to the MRS Company Partnership Scheme. We are also ISO 20252:2006, ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 27001:2005 compliant.
SNS: Can you give some idea of the number of IT users and the different applications/ needs they have?
IM: In the UK we have 900 permanent staff across 7 sites, 1700 interviewers undertaking face to face interviews throughout the UK and Ireland, as well as 4 call centres with a total of 500 seats. Globally, Ipsos has 10,000 permanent staff in over 60 countries.
Apart from the usual array of Microsoft productivity applications, many staff also use applications specific to the Market Research sector. These are used to prepare the interview scripts, samples of interviewees, collect the data, process it and finally produce the output, usually in the form of PowerPoint and Excel.
Our field face to face interviewers are equipped with laptops and software which allows them to run through an interview script and record the answers to the questions being asked. These are then sent back to base via secure connections, where the answers are processed.
Similarly, call centre staff use terminals and predictive diallers to go through a script and capture the answers.
SNS: Please provide some background on your own job role and how this has evolved in general terms since you joined the company including the challenge of delivering one single IT strategy across multiple regions and continents?
IM: I have worked in the IT industry for almost 20 years (apart from a one-year break to successfully undertake a full-time MBA). Having joined Ipsos MORI in 2007 as the UK IT Director, I have recently been promoted to the role of CIO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). The new role is complex as the 3 sub-regions have very different IT needs and putting in place a single IT strategy is challenging, if not impossible.
For example, our Eastern European region is one of the fastest growing within Ipsos, with double digit growth year on year. At the same time, basic IT infrastructure in some countries of the region is either non-existent or extremely expensive, e.g. connecting some eastern-European countries to our global Wide Area Network is pretty much impossible. We have a minimum acceptable standard of IT processes and procedures that all Ipsos companies have to follow, but depending on local circumstances, a degree of flexibility in IT processes and implementation is required.
SNS: Can you give an insight on some of the specific challenges you have had to deal with.
IM: Well first off there is Compliance. The requirements of data handling/retention etc. bearing in mind the nature of our business.
Information Security and compliance are very important to Ipsos MORI and the Ipsos group. In the UK we were the first Market Research organisation to become ISO 27001 certified. Some of our biggest clients are the national and local governments of the UK, as well as other public sector organisations, and therefore we pay particular attention to this area. I personally sit on the Ipsos MORI Information Security Board, which is chaired by the UK CEO.
The business is ISO-27001 audited on an annual basis and our IT processes and procedures in areas such as Data Retention, Information Security and Disaster Recovery go through a scrutinizing process. Although this adds to our workload, it does help us in two ways:
Another challenge was the Ipsos MORI merger, in managing and migrating the merging of two IT infrastructures and data sets. I joined Ipsos MORI shortly after the UK businesses merged.
Although the technologies used were similar, in practice there were a number of differences that hindered efficiency and productivity in the new organisation (for example in the versions of Microsoft Exchange used) and basic infrastructure challenges, e.g. no proper connectivity between the offices.
We therefore put in place a major review and refresh of our IT, with a clear 3-year strategy to deliver a professional, resilient, high-performance, but value for money, IT infrastructure.
Since then we have implemented a UK and Ireland MPLS network, refreshed key servers and adopted virtualisation, migrated to a single Exchange 2007 platform, implemented redundancy by having a second Data Centre with full replication, refreshed desktops and laptops, restructured the IT Service Desk while implementing ITIL, and also spent a lot more time with the Ipsos MORI staff, understanding their technology issues and resolving them.
As a result, IT is now a trusted partner with a seat on the UK management board. We are no longer just a back-office support function. Instead we work with our colleagues to support them in the delivery of their projects to our clients, for example by helping them with major bids that have a technology element. I, and other senior IT colleagues, have also been asked to attend tender meetings and present to our clients and we know from the fact that we have won a lot of these bids that this approach works.
Finally, the journey from having a number of solutions to consolidating on one platform.
Our 3-year strategy included a consolidation strategy. This manifested itself in a number of ways. For example, The Ipsos group has gone through a consolidation exercise, with email and other applications consolidated on a per regional basis.
For example, the UK's email platform is also used by our Western European colleagues. We also decided to consolidate the software solutions we use, whether it's for backup, anti-virus or undertaking market research.
We've made great progress in this area (in the UK we have now consolidated all our platforms), but there are more opportunities in the EMEA region, and the group as a whole, which we can exploit, for example in consolidating our telephony suppliers.
SNS: Can you describe the quest for, and implementation of, the organisation's enterprise class business continuity platform?
IM: The UK IT team identified early on that a more strategic and long term data management approach was necessary. Traditionally, Ipsos MORI had one or more backup solutions per regional office, resulting in many backup tapes being produced every day. These were scattered throughout the UK and it was very difficult to guarantee the quality of backups and security of the data on those tapes.
We therefore started looking at enterprise-class solutions that would allow us to better manage our data, specifically looking at centralising our data backups and restores, data replication which we could use to set-up redundant systems, ways to cut down the time it took to backup and restore our ever increasing amounts of data, and most importantly improving data security.
Having looked at the data management market, we decided that the Commvault products were a natural fit for our organisational needs. When I joined Ipsos MORI, we had at least three different software backup solutions in place, using various tape drives and tape technologies. We now have 2 centres where our data is backed up, using one single solution.
When we shared our ideas and plans with our North American colleagues, they agreed with our vision. We have since put forward our business case to the global Ipsos IT Investment Committee and have had approval to proceed with rolling out the UK-designed solution to the rest of Ipsos, making it our corporate data-management standard.
SNS: And what are the specific requirements of such a solution, bearing in mind the nature of your business – back up, data protection and retention, archiving etc.
IM: We were specifically looking at enterprise-level solutions. In my mind that means both centralised and devolved administration, i.e. our global teams can manage all our data storage processes while local teams have the rights to fully manage their own local data.
We also wanted a single product that would cover data backups, data and email archiving, replication, de-duplication, and search.
SNS: What part does deduplication technology played in the solution?
IM: Deduplication technology is at the core of our data management architecture. We initially deployed a DataDomain solution as a way to manage our growing email and file storage requirements. That had an immediate impact which meant we were able to defer any further storage purchases.
When we revisited our needs and designed our Business Continuity architecture, we put deduplication right in the centre of it.
We're currently in the implementation phase, but we hope that, by using deduplication, we can minimise the amount of data we replicate between our data centres.
As a result we do not have to increase the bandwidth of our WAN and therefore we can save money.
SNS: Are you able to quantify the benefits of the business continuity solution in terms of business benefits and in terms of cost savings?
IM: Yes. In order to get budget approval for this project, I had to present to the global Ipsos IT Investment Committee. The basis of our case was that we had a ROI of 1 to 1.5 years depending on the country. In the UK for example, we can cancel a number of BC contracts we have and reduce the number of tapes we currently purchase for our backups.
As a result, our ROI is actually less than a year. In terms of business benefits, it all goes back to our ISO 27001 certification.
Being proactive and being able to show our auditors that we continually improve our data management, ensures our continued ISO accreditation.
This is a USP (unique selling point) that our business can use during our pitches for new business. In some cases, ISO 27001 accreditation is a prerequisite, so not having it would result in loosing multi-million pound projects.
SNS: And how has the credit crunch impacted on the storage/ IT department re planning/project implementation?
IM: Ipsos actually outperformed most of our major competitors in 2009. During a very challenging year for the market research business, we were able to finish only slightly down on 2008.
The rest of the industry finished 10% down. IT was asked to contribute by tightly managing our IT expenditure.
We therefore decided to prioritise our CAPEX and focus on backend infrastructure investment rather than desktops and laptops.
As a result, we know that in 2011 we will have in place a long-term data management solution, and we can focus more on the front-end elements of our IT infrastructure.
SNS: What impact did the General Election have on the organisation's storage/general IT workload?
IM: Ipsos MORI has a 30-year tradition of being at the forefront of UK national, European and Local elections in terms of pre-election and exit polling, data gathering, analysis and delivery.
We already had in place the solutions, processes and capacity to manage the requirements we are getting as a result of the General Election
For example, I was commenting to a colleague that we got not a single request from the business for us to ensure our website would be available during the election process.
There is an inherent expectation and belief that our systems will just be available and perform as expected when required.
SNS: So away from the General Election could you describe a typical day within your department?
IM: Having 900 end users, we spend quite a bit of time dealing with requests, ranging from borrowing 3G USB sticks, to setting up secure environments on our file servers. When I joined Ipsos MORI we averaged over 2000 tickets per month, these included both day-to-day requests as well as incidents and problems.
Currently we receive on average 1500 tickets per month. I would like to believe that this decline in tickets is as a result of the improvements in Infrastructure and our adoption of ITIL.
Our backend teams spend their day working on new projects, e.g. implementing our new data management solution, supporting other Ipsos countries, or dealing with unexpected issues.
SNS: When developing new projects how did your relationship with the channel evolve?
IM: We have been an S3 client for a couple of years. Our initial relationship was based on a number of small purchases.
They introduced us to deduplication and worked with us to implement our DataDomain solution. We were very impressed with their willingness to be a true partner.
Even though our initial storage expenditure was very limited and ad-hoc, S3 recognised that we had long term requirements and it was beneficial for them to work with us and invest their time and effort up-front.
SNS: Specifically, what are the benefits/USPs that S3 brings to Ipsos/MORI over and above other possible partners?
IM: Being a very busy IT department we do not have the time to stay up to date with all new technology and solutions.
S3, apart from being very good at implementing our architecture, also keep us up to date.
It's a two way street. We make sure they understand our immediate and future business and data management needs, and in return they are able to suggest new ways of improving our systems and processes.
SNS: Putting IT at the centre of the ipsos MORI organisation has been a significant achievement for John Seglias.
He's happy to acknowledge the strategic role that S3 has played in helping him achieve this objective and foresees the relationship developing further alongside his plans to optimiseuse of technologies such as virtualisation and (just maybe!) the Cloud in the future.ShareThis
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