To be faced with a complete restructure of your company and to have your entire ICT infrastructure taken away would be a severe test for any CIO -- more so as Allister Lowe did not know, when he became IT manager of transport and logistics company Toll Tranzlink in 2008, that the big change was only 12 months away.
No one else was aware at that stage that Toll would sell New Zealand's rail and ferry operations, which it then owned, back to the Crown.
"We sold literally everything," says Lowe. "Infrastructure, servers, licences, desktops, supplier agreements, telephony: everything went into Crown ownership; we owned nothing.
"For a 12-month period we operated on what is now KiwiRail's infrastructure. Under the deal that was struck, Toll had 12 months to physically separate ourselves and rebuild our own world. The first six months were spent on an RFP process, understanding what we had to do and then we had six months to reconstruct our world, forge new supplier relationships, procure hardware and roll out all of our new technology. That was a huge project that covered all aspects of ICT and we had to run old alongside new [technology] without impacting the business."
To add to the workload, Toll's strategy of growth by acquisition didn't stop. "We had acquisitions that we were integrating at the same time, and that made it a huge undertaking."
Still, Lowe saw the positive side of the challenge: "I was very fortunate when we sold the rail and ferry operations, that I gained responsibility for Toll NZ as a whole and had the opportunity to rebuild everything from scratch. It's not often you get that opportunity," he says.
"From my perspective a lot of the infrastructure there was aging and unreliable and in desperate need of a refresh, and there was lots of room for the IT services provided at the time across the business units to be improved."
Toll NZ opted for an outsourced solution, choosing TelstraClear as its main provider.
"Traditionally ICT was in-sourced" and the New Zealand operation ICT team had a staff of 55 when Lowe joined. "I didn't want to replicate another team of that many people," he says. In the New Zealand context it made "total sense" to get the efficiencies and benefit of outsourcing.
For Toll globally, it was a great opportunity to test a different model and the company now has the option to launch similar models around the world where it makes sense, he says. At present, Toll remains unique. "In many respects Toll leads the way in terms of VoIP and virtual desktop infrastructure," says Lowe.
"We use SunRay desktops, hooked into VMware virtual server infrastructure and our CommVault backup infrastructure. We also run NetApp as our storage, which the virtual desktops hook into.
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