How Samworth Brothers Transformed the Data Centre – Case Study

EatingAt a recent analyst briefing in London, Martin Gibbons, Group IS Director of food company Samworth Brothers, explained how migrating key applications and more than 3000 users onto Office 365 to an SCC hosted data centre, has benefited the business.

Background scenario and core requirements

Few people will have heard of Samworth Brothers but if you have ever bought a ready-made sandwich from Waitrose, Costa Coffee or Tesco, eaten a ready-meal from Marks and Spencer, or bought a Ginsters pie or pasty, it was probably made by this family-owned business.

Samworth Brothers is a very successful collection of businesses and had enjoyed significant and rapid growth during the 1990s and 2000s. During this time, as is often the case with growing businesses, IT was not seen as priority and when Martin Gibbons joined the company as IT Director early in 2012, he saw straight away that a lot of work needed to be done in order to bring the company up to speed.

“IT had been seen as a bit of backwater, one of those necessary evils of running a business in the twenty-first century and not something that had seen a great deal of investment.” said Gibbons. “One of the first things I wanted to do was make sure that all the stuff I could get sacked for worked. I did not think that was going to be as tough as it turned out to be. Luckily, I had the support of the board.”

While the company had grown, it had not changed its approach to IT and systems. ‘The IT suppliers were still doing what they were told to do”, Gibbons explained. “There was no IT department as such and IT was fragmented around the 14 different businesses as it was then (there are 16 today).  There was a lot of stuff that had been done by well-meaning people, but critical applications were not necessarily set up with the robustness and resilience that was required.”

This meant the business was exposed to a higher level of risk than it should have been. Gibbons set about resolving that situation and started to look for partners who could provide solutions across a number of different areas.

Samworth Brothers had been running the Infor System 21 ERP solution on IBM AS400 platforms. This suited its needs very well, Gibbons pointed out, but when he joined there were 11 different instances of System 21 running across Samworth Brothers companies. This fragmented system needed to be brought together, so the entire ERP system could be and properly monitored and managed. The company’s own data centres, however, were not going to be up to the task.

All the individual businesses were also running their own email servers and most of these were well over a decade old and starting to suffer from reliability issues, putting added strain on the service delivery team.

In addition, Gibbons wanted to do something about the large number of critical applications that had been set up on-premise across the different businesses and put these in the hands of a dependable hosting provider.

“The other challenge I had was that my internal team, which I was trying to pull together from across the business, was relatively inexperienced. They knew how to keep the lights on, but not what the outside world could deliver. I wanted to look at how I could release those guys, so that, instead of just keeping systems up and running – which as a food manufacturer is not our top priority – they could add some value to the organisation. I needed to find a partner that could provide us with an effective managed service.”

Finding an effective supplier

Gibbons knew SCC, having worked with the company as a hardware supplier in his previous role at drinks company Britvic. But SCC had not come up on Samworth Brothers’ radar in the initial search for a supplier with that could meet its needs.

When a call came in from a contact that he had known when dealing with SCC previously, Gibbons agreed to give the company a hearing and was surprised to learn of the extended hosting and managed services capabilities SCC had developed. Samworth Brothers was already in the final stages of its selection process but Gibbons was impressed with what he’d heard. He decided to give SCC an opportunity to present its views on how the company could take its IT plans forward.

SCC responded promptly and the ideas it presented to Gibbons’ team changed the way people thought at Samworth Brothers. “It opened our eyes because it was a completely different approach. The other suppliers we were talking to were just doing what we told them to do. SCC operated in a different way. They challenged us on what would or would not work for us and provided us with some options. That got me thinking about what we really needed. Given the inexperienced team and the challenges we’d got, we needed someone to come and demonstrate different capabilities and expand how we could use IT.”

The solution SCC delivered

“Once chosen as the supplier, SCC acted decisively” says Gibbons. “They were very quickly to turn things around. They understood what we were talking about and were also able to bring in partners where they did not have expertise in certain areas and they were honest and open about that. That was refreshing and that advisory approach really worked for us.”

The Samworth Brothers IT team and SCC started working on the Simplify and Manage (SAM) project without further delay. The company had decided to purchase a new IBM iSeries system as the platform for its ERP systems. This was to be system hosted and managed by SCC in its Colne Valley data centre, with full resiliency.

All 14 Samworth Brothers businesses were migrated from their on-premises instances of System 21 into the new SCC-hosted solution. At the same time, more than 3000 users were moved across to Office 365 and that conversion has proved to be very successful. This was all done inside the same window and with very little disruption to the business, which was quite an achievement for the company, says Gibbons. “We managed to do this within six months, which is pretty rapid for Samworth Brothers. In the past it had taken three years to upgrade to a new version of System 21 across the business.”

Results and benefits for Samworth Brothers

“The impact of switching to a fully hosted ERP and Office 365 solution, have been striking” said Gibbons. “We have got a much more resilience in terms of our data centre approach now. Our critical applications, ERP and email applications and now properly hosted, monitored and managed 24/7 and that’s a great boon for us. We are now rolling out SharePoint and the collaboration toolset and that’s going down a storm; for the first time people are understanding what collaboration actually means.”

The project has also changed the attitude towards IT within the business” he added.  “For once IT within Samworth Brothers did something it said it was going to do. Was it the smoothest of projects? No. Was it one where we had to work quite hard? Yes. But people could see the end point and that was very helpful; and the way that Samworth Brothers and SCC people worked together was very encouraging and good to see too. There was a lot of goodwill and effort put in by both parties. That made me feel that what we really had here was a partnership, not just a supplier relationship. That this was a company we could work with on a long-term basis.”

The number of people who attended the ‘wash-up’ party at the end of the project – and had a really good time – was testimony to the strong and positive feeling that everyone on both teams felt at the end of the SAM project” said Gibbons. ‘And from my perspective what that meant was that, within Samworth Brothers, we’d actually got a very much better perception within the group of what IT could deliver.”

What the future holds

“The journey that Samworth Brothers is on with IT is continuing. Other critical applications will be moved out into the cloud and the company is launching a project to move its wide area connections across to the SCC Fluidata network. This will provide a platform for further positive changes” said Gibbons. “We are very excited about some of the opportunities and the capabilities and capacity that this is going to help us generate, so that we can cover off the rest of our strategic intent.”

Samworth Brothers is also having a virtual environment built within one of SCC’s hosted data centres that will enable it to move the majority of its equipment off-premises. ‘That’s clearly going to help us, as it means we can take all the people who we had looking after the hardware, running backups and performing those sort of tasks before, and retrain them to provide a value-added service to the organisation.”

Gibbons is hopeful that, by the end of 2016, Samworth Brothers will have everything that it can move off-premises hosted within SCC’s data centres or the cloud. As mentioned previously, the roll-out of SharePoint across the organisation is already having a massively positive impact in areas such as purchasing. A group Intranet is being put in place, which will allow management to communicate much more easily with the company’s 9000 staff located right across the country. The company is also looking to upgrade to Office 2016 and potentially to adopt a managed service for desktop environments and the service desk.

Reflecting on the project, Gibbons said that SCC’s involvement changed the whole approach that Samworth Brothers took towards the modernisation of its IT systems. “We had gone out with a request for services to the market and other suppliers had come back with a response. But SCC started to talk to us about new capabilities and things we had not considered. That gave us more of an opportunity to build for the future rather than build around what we’d already got.”

SCC has also been able to help the company re-evaluate its enterprise architecture, take a more strategic approach to IT and prioritise the challenges it is facing with IT. These include the need for greater collaboration across the different businesses, all of whom have worked largely in isolation in the past, and having a single unified ERP solution for the entire business, so that it can make use of business analytics that will deliver additional value to the company.

How SCC is developing its cloud-delivered managed services capability

SCC has been steadily building its hosting capabilities, investing strongly in new data centres over the past 15 years and today has more than 1800 high capacity tier 3 or above racks and more than 600TB of cloud-based storage capacity. It also has a networked presence in 18 of the UK’s large data centres. Between 2013 and 2015, the company has grown its data centre business by 55%.

In addition to Samworth Brothers, customers that make extensive use of SCC’s data centre capabilities include WH Smith, BMW, William Hill, Oxfordshire County Council, the DWP and many others.

SCC has also made a strategic investment in Fluidata data network, providing customers with access to high-speed, layer-2 and layer-3 delivery using a wide range of technologies, such as DSL, fibre and MPLS. Further investments, in SIPCOM for hosted voice and unified communications and in One Point, which adds mobile voice and data capability means that SCC now offers a comprehensive cloud-delivered managed services (CDMS) proposition to customers.

For more information on SCC’s hosted and managed services, please contact us on 0121 766 7000 or email [email protected].

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