Lessons on vendor management from a global IT manager

In a high pressure environment, when an hour of connectivity downtime for customers can lead to a $200,000 SLA fine, Brett Hobbs of BCS Group knew finding the vendor that could meet this criteria was essential.

Tucked in a building in Auckland’s North Shore, BCS Group provides services and products across the globe that impact a vast range of customers and critical systems.

The company specialises in designing, manufacturing, installing and servicing of baggage and material handling systems across the globe, including Air New Zealand’s self-check in bag drop system.

In the past six years, BCS employee numbers grew from 70 to 350. Their clients now include major Asian and Australian airports, and local logistics providers Transit and Toll.

If one system goes down, the backlog can mean a manufacturing site, an airport or a major thoroughfare, will be on standstill. The criticality of the systems mean BCS can face SLA penalties of $200,000 per hour for delays, for instance, of an aeroplane or fleet of delivery trucks.

“No room for error, no tolerance for downtime,” says group IT director Brett Hobbs on the top challenge he and his team face.

I like finding companies that have similar strategies and principles and have a very similar culture to us.

Brett Hobbs, BCS Group

This was also the business case for the move to a new network provider. Hobbs explains the contract for the previous supplier was coming up for renewal, so he sought options for providers.

“It was not that the service was bad or we needed to change,” he tells CIO New Zealand. He says BCS was looking at working on a large number of projects, including new products and online services. “I want to take the opportunity to look at the connections into our data centre and how we could really streamline those. We also wanted to remove the middleman and buy direct.

“In that way, if there were any issues, we could talk directly to engineers for an immediate response and resolution.

“We needed a technically-smart network that was resilient and diverse,” he adds. “If part of the network went down, what was the alternative route?

“International peering was a key requirement as our operations are geographically spread, predominantly throughout Australasia and Asia,” notes Hobbs.

He says it was important that having a base in New Zealand was not a limitation. “Direct backhaul connectivity would allow remote staff, our international data centres and systems to communicate as if they were next door to each other."

Latency and contention were also major business drivers. “Our products demand extremely low latency and high throughput. Every day, our systems crunch huge amounts of data, providing reports that reveal information such as how quickly a plane’s luggage has been processed to the number of items in transit. Being able to access this in real-time is critical,” he states. “If there is a jam, we need to know immediately.

At the Melbourne airport alone, for instance, their system processes around one million luggage items a day. “There’s no room for error.”

BCS opted to work with Vocus, which presented them with different companies, data centres and exchanges around the world it could get direct access to. “We found everywhere we are going, or have been, Vocus is either there or one hop away."

“We are buying dedicated capacity only for us, right across the whole network.”

Vocus provided two high bandwidth dedicated fibre circuits for resiliency. This linked BCS’ Auckland site directly into the Vocus network. Being independent, Vocus provides diversity for the final tail via multiple carriers. It is a bespoke design featuring the diverse access connectivity that is reliable and can match the future data demands of BCS.

We are buying dedicated capacity only for us, right across the whole network.

Brett Hobbs, BCS Group

For example, BCS’ data jumps on the network at Auckland, takes the shortest, fastest route direct to Singapore or hundreds of other point of presence across Asia, America and Australasia, without touching a third party network.

Hobbs says one of the main factors BCS considered when the shortlisted companies were down to two were accessibility to a chief architect or senior engineers.

Hobbs says in his initial discussions with Vocus, a senior engineer met with him and went through the network, how it is going to work with BCS and what options it will have.

“Vocus must have spent a good two months just getting to know us, what we were doing, where we were going, before even starting to go through contracts.”

With other companies, he says, “you get a message ‘this is what it is, this is what we do, we guarantee this', versus sitting down and really understanding what we do.”

His advice to other IT directors working with their service providers? “Get to know them very well, see how their business works,” says Hobbs.

“I like finding companies that have similar strategies and principles and have a very similar culture to us.”

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