by Tim Lohman

iSoft hits half way mark on three year IT transformation

Aug 26, 2009
Data Center

iSoft has announced it is halfway through a three-year IT transformation aimed at connecting its global offices, positioning the e-health company for further rapid growth and developing a proactive information infrastructure.

According to the iSoft’s CIO Martin Wilkinson, the transformation — driven by a move to new premises, strong sales growth and the acquisition of several businesses — has seen the company move from a bolt-together infrastructure to a new state of the art IT facility and global network in the last 18 months.

Using a private MPLS network the company has connected its 4500 staff across operations in Australia, Europe, the UK and India through a company-wide, Cisco-based VoIP solution and a Tandberg-based combination of 25 mobile and 26 static videoconferencing endpoints, with the goal of cutting down executive travel.

iSoft has also consolidated suppliers and moved to enterprise agreements, signing HP for 95 per cent of its servers across the group, Dell for the other 5 percent, Microsoft for software, Cisco and Juniper for Networking gear, and is looking to standardize its desktops and notebooks with a single supplier.

A new HP-designed and built data centre based at its Sydney headquarters has also been installed. The centre, four times the size of its previous centre and offering considerable power savings, has supported the company’s move toward a private cloud and greater use of virtual infrastructure.

The setup includes D-Series HP servers, an EMC SAN, a Dell server rack, VMware, and Riverbed Steelhead appliances.

“What we are doing is taking all core business applications into a centralised environment as they’re all mission critical and leveraging that global environment to create our own private cloud,” Wilkinson says. “We are no longer are we constrained by physical boundaries.”

By way of example, Wilkinson says that while the company’s head office is based in Sydney, the commercial employee management system on which it has standardised is hosted in its UK office, but accessible globally.

“We are also building a virtual desktop infrastructure in India for the development staff in other centres of the world,” he says. “The idea is to be able to access the desktop which is closest to the server that holds the source code. So, we have a development team in Spain, but it uses PCs based in India through a remote desktop.”

In line with the move to the new data centre, iSoft has also run an aggressive consolidation program, which has so far seen the company rationalise 250 business applications down to 120. Its server estate has been reduced from 1000 physical servers around the globe to below 500 and counting.

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With its new Sydney data centre and network, iSoft has been able to dramatically improve management of systems and applications across the Asia Pacific through centralisation.

“We run every office in APAC out of this office; no other office in APAC has servers in it. All the e-mail is centralised here and South East Asia even browse the internet through here they don’t have their own internet connections,” he says.

With further acquisitions a distinct possibility, the ability to integrate new businesses into iSoft quickly and smoothly is another major benefit of the transformation, Wilkinson says.

“If I take the Canberra acquisition [Hatrix] as an example. . . with what we have now it was very easy to hook them into the global network, move all their mail services and core documentation to Sydney,” he says. “Their server estate is now being rationalised into our virtual data centre here. It becomes more manageable and what that means is you’re not looking at multiple IT staff in every office so there’s a staff saving based on that centralisation. We’re also looking at remote desktop to be able to remotely support those users.”

Wilkinson said another major benefit of the transformation has been on the intangibles side — specifically, freeing up the equivalent of three full time workers to work on strategic and innovative IT projects.

“We would not have been able to do global VoIP or what we have done with video conferencing in the last two months if we had the same infrastructure,” he says. Three of the gurus in my team and were stuck on just supporting desktops.”

With the right infrastructure in place, and effectively greater staff resources, iSoft’s IT team can now look toward moving beyond a reactive IT service to developing a proactive information service, Wilkinson says.

The set up is likely to include data centre automation, client automation, proactive network monitoring, and the company has already moved toward proactive security with the introduction of an intrusion detection system.

“You will always have the reactive helpdesk, but what we are doing is investigating moving it to proactive service; you had a problem, but we fixed it before you even noticed you had it,” he says.

“It’s making IT more business-focused. If HR or the finance director needs certain information, IT can provide them with it ahead of time. A lot of the emphasis is on making my staff more skilled in the business aspects, not just the IT aspects.”

The company will also look to re-engineer its 2000-strong Indian development centre over the next 12 months and also look to deploy a world-wide ERP system.

Attention will also be given to its European delivery operations, in particular the UK, which is responsible for managing iSoft’s contract with the UK government for work on its National Program for IT — the largest civilian IT project in the world, Wilkinson says — which seeks to provide an integrated health record for residents there.

Wilkinson adds that one of the biggest changes as a result of the transformation has been in iSoft’s chairman’s perspective of IT.

“Now the chairman takes pride in bring investors and visitors into IT,” he says. “He now does his own data centre tours. The whole facility has changed the way iSoft appears, and staff morale has become a real positive.”