Construction firm AGC routinely deploys hundreds of specialist staff to remote mining and oil and gas sites in Western Australia. It standardized 700 laptops and PCs on Windows 7 Enterprise and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2. Now, IT staff can reconfigure machines in minutes rather than hours and push out updates remotely. As a result, staff members require less technical support, which has reduced IT costs.
Australian company AGC provides specialized fabrication, construction, and maintenance services on mining and oil and gas sites in Western Australia. With the boom in mineral and energy exports to Asia, the company has grown rapidly and can mobilize up to 500 employees to work onsite during the term of a project.
AGC constantly moves staff between locations as projects start and finish. As a result, the company’s 400 desktop computers and 300 laptop computers are regularly reassigned and specialized applications need to be loaded—tasks that kept some of the company’s 15 IT support staff extremely busy.
||Instead of taking weeks to get 20 machines ready, it takes us a few days. We can get staff on project sites more quickly, so we increase productivity and the business is a lot happier.
Chief Information Officer, AGC
“If a big project kicks off, we have to get 20 to 30 machines reconfigured quickly,” says David Redpath, Chief Information Officer at AGC. “However, each reconfiguration took us two to three hours, so getting the machines ready could take weeks.”
Redpath and his team were partly hampered by a diversity of operating systems. The majority of AGC PCs and laptops ran on the Windows XP operating system, with most of the remainder on Windows Vista.
“We had no consistency, and little control over our computer fleet,” says Redpath. “Because most machines were on remote sites, support was complicated. We didn’t know what operating system was on which machine, so we couldn’t update them remotely, and we couldn’t roll out new software until the machines came back to head office.”
As a result, on-site staff didn’t always have the tools they needed, and the IT help desk fielded frequent calls from on-site staff, which consumed an excessive amount of everyone’s time. “On-site staff just expect their machines to work,” says Redpath. “To make sure they did, we wanted either a new Citrix thin-client architecture, or an operating system upgrade that delivered reliability, mobility, agility, and consistency.”Solution
In March 2010, Redpath tested the practical implications of upgrading the operating systems and began a one-month pilot of the Windows 7 Enterprise operating system on 25 office and on-site computers. He wanted to ensure that Windows 7 could support all specialist applications, including the company’s operations program for its fabrication facility. The team also trialed Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2.
“Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager promised three critical new capabilities,” says Redpath. “First, with Software Distribution, we could automatically deploy multiple packages of software to remote machines. Second, we could remotely update our machines. And third, the hardware and software inventory tools would tell us exactly which machines were being used, so we could keep a tight control on the software licenses fees our company paid.”
The pilot was a success. In September 2010, AGC decided to upgrade 700 licenses to Windows 7 Enterprise and deploy System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 on each of its machines under the terms of its Microsoft Volume Licensing agreement and Microsoft Software Assurance. The company also decided to install the Windows Internet Explorer 8 browser on each machine, and to use several tools within the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, including Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management, to enforce download rules; Microsoft Asset Inventory Service, to keep track of hardware and software; and Microsoft Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset.
A rolling upgrade to Windows 7 Enterprise commenced in September 2010, timed to coincide with employee training courses. Over half of the refresh involved new Dell PCs, which arrived with the new standard image preinstalled. “We updated the remainder as the machines came back to head office between projects,” says Redpath. “In total, we deployed Windows 7 on all 700 machines in the six months to March 2011, and we experienced no compatibility issues.”Benefits
The successful deployment of Windows 7 Enterprise has delivered immediate commercial and financial benefits. Employees make fewer support calls, so IT support costs less. And with project staff mobilized faster, the business is more responsive.
Faster On-Site Deployment
By combining Windows 7 Enterprise with System Center Configuration Manager, the AGC IT team has dramatically improved its productivity. “It used to take us three to four hours to configure a machine; now, it takes us 20 minutes,” says Redpath. “Instead of taking weeks to get 20 machines ready, it takes us a few days. We can get staff on projects sites more quickly, so we increase productivity and the business is a lot happier.”
Reduced IT Support Costs
Faster response times have translated directly into reduced IT support costs. “We used to have two full-time staff employed just to configure machines,” Redpath says. “We are saving the business at least AU$85,000 (U.S.$90,000) per year just in reduced support costs.”
Better Inventory Management
AGC also saves costs by using System Center Configuration Manager because inventory management exposes machines and software packages that are not properly utilized. “I now know exactly what’s on every machine, and we are much more efficient with our licensing,” says Redpath. “Every month I get a report saying which people aren’t using paid-for software packages, so I can remove them. We should be able to save about AU$50,000 (U.S.$53,000) per year from cancelling expensive unused licenses.”
For Redpath, employee satisfaction is best measured by the silence at the support desk. “We know Windows 7 is easy to use because we get far fewer support calls,” he says. “In July 2011, we will deploy the unified communications tool, Microsoft Lync 2010, at which point we will get rid of our desk phones altogether.”
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