The AXA Group provides financial protection and wealth management to over 80 million clients worldwide. The company has 210,000 employees and major operations in Western Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific region. In 2008, AXA reported annual revenue of EUR€91.2 billion (approximately U.S.$126 billion).
||Microsoft Services brings experience that is at once broad and deep, and a unique perspective we probably could not have obtained any other way.
||Guillaume Boust, Technical Lead, AXA Technology Services Corporate
Across five data centers, AXA has over 16,000 servers. Local IT teams have traditionally handled server configuration independently. Because this model makes it difficult for AXA to control quality, costs, and efficiency, AXA Technology Services, the IT arm of AXA, created the Operating System Solution Department (OSSD). This team (five internal and two external staff) within AXA Technology Services Corporate provides central services that encompass the planning, delivery, and operations for server images. By standardizing the images, the OSSD would in turn help IT operations employees worldwide eliminate the need to become familiar with unique server configurations while reducing redundant administrative duties.
Guillaume Boust, Technical Lead for AXA Technology Services, summarizes the objectives of the OSSD. “We formed the OSSD to reduce costs and increase the overall quality of the servers,” he says. Boust goes on to note that although AXA had an automated server install process in some data centers, other data centers simply did not have this process in place. Boust and his team took on the task of establishing a common server install process and image that would offer AXA Technology Services uniform servers, including drivers, operating system, folder structure, and more.
Although a central service for server imaging would ultimately help AXA Technology Services lower costs and improve server quality, the OSSD team was still relatively new and focused primarily on technology, providing imaging more as a product than a service. In addition, the service used or complied with only some of the AXA Technology Services’s service management department–defined processes. For these reasons, IT operations teams across AXA Technology Services—many of which already managed their own server infrastructure—were slow or hesitant to adopt the OSSD’s services. The OSSD understood that it would need to more successfully market itself to internal customers by:
- Building a relationship with the regional teams that established the OSSD as a reputable service provider.
- Demonstrating the reliability of its services and compliance with standards and established company server management processes.
- Improving process efficiency and effectiveness.
As the first step, the OSSD engaged in the Risk and Health Assessment Program for IT Operations (OpsRAP) from Microsoft Services, a five-day engagement that includes two to three days of on-site work with a Microsoft operations consultant. Through this engagement, the OSSD worked closely with the consultant to gain critical, high-value insight into its operations.
“Our objective with the Risk and Health Assessment Program for IT Operations was to gain insight into the OSSD to ensure that we had the right processes and methodologies in place to deliver a high-quality service,” says Boust. “We did not want to force teams to adopt our service; rather, we wanted to convince them that it was the right choice.”
Helping to provide the OSSD with operational insight that it could move forward with, the OpsRAP engagement takes into account proven best practices. These best practices include guidance from the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), the Microsoft Operations Framework, and core areas outlined in the International Standard ISO/IEC 20000.
OpsRAP provided the OSSD with:
- Guidance on operational improvement prioritized by business value, including details around service mapping.
- An outline of the required documentation for the team’s service management processes.
- An outline of what should be covered within the service-level agreement documentation for various OSSD processes and offerings.
- A plan and strategic road map for remediating issues.
With OpsRAP, the OSSD has gained the operational knowledge needed direct from Microsoft to establish itself as a trusted service provider and build new relationships with internal customers.
Says Boust, “We know that we still have a lot to do before we reach our target. But with the Risk and Health Assessment Program for IT Operations, we have confirmed that we are heading in the right direction and identified ways to achieve continuous service improvements.”
Gain Critical Insight into Health of Service Management Processes And Functions
By engaging with Microsoft Services, the OSSD has gained the third-party insight that it needed to understand the strengths and weaknesses in its operations.
“I believe that if you want to improve and make progress, you have to periodically challenge yourself,” says Boust. “You have to step back and evaluate your methodologies from the perspective of a third party—someone outside yourself and your organization. Microsoft Services brings experience that is at once broad and deep, and a unique perspective we probably could not have obtained any other way.”
Focus on the Core Processes Required to Manage the IT Business
Now, instead of offering server images as a product, the OSSD is on track to provide them as a service. The team is moving in the right direction to offer a service that will provide groups that adopt OSSD services with assurance in the quality, reliability, and supportability of the service.
“Our focus was on technical matters,” says Boust, “We should now develop documentation describing our solution, commitments for resolving bugs, and so on, all of which we will need to comply with ITIL processes.”
Prioritize Service Management and Optimize Resource Allocation
As an output of the OpsRAP, the OSSD now has a clear 12-month to 18-month plan outlining initiatives that will help the team realize its goals. The key to helping the team deliver on these goals has been a clear linking of resources to responsibilities at the OSSD. From these efforts and the future IT initiatives that will stem out of them, Boust looks to the future in optimism.
“We want to show regional data center teams that the OSSD offers a good, cost-effective solution that respects common AXA Technology Services IT processes and methodologies,” says Boust. “We want various divisions to have the same confidence in our solution that they have with their own solutions and those they get from a software company.”