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Stagecoach drives towards a ‘cloud-first’ enabled network strategy with Node4

Stagecoach drives towards a ‘cloud-first’ enabled network strategy with Node4

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Stagecoach needed to replace its legacy WAN infrastructure with a new SD-WAN based architecture in order to avoid downtime and achieve success on its Digital Transformation journey. Graham Moore, Group Chief Information Officer at Stagecoach, tells us how Node4 enabled it to do this.

Stagecoach Group is a leading multi-modal UK public transport company, with operations in England, Scotland and Wales. It operates bus, coach and tram services in regulated and deregulated markets. Stagecoach is the UK’s biggest bus and coach operator, with 24,000 employees serving three million passengers every day across 100 major UK bus depots.

The challenge:

Stagecoach needed to be able to support both business growth and its increased adoption of cloud-based technologies. This required a connectivity solution that could be easily deployed to existing and new sites. The need for a software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) solution was clear to ensure Stagecoach could progress with its cloud-first strategy. Its strategy includes a combination of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) adoption and preparing core systems for the cloud, both of which require application routing control and extensive access to bandwidth.

Staying online is hugely important for Stagecoach, its employees and its customers, but using legacy infrastructure meant there was no way of automatically monitoring the entire estate. This resulted in the IT team having no visibility into knowing if or when a site was down, or if it was struggling for bandwidth. In turn, this could cause extended periods of downtime if not addressed, as the onsite teams had to manually check each site minute-by-minute and the IT support team would only find out about any downtime once they were notified.

“If the network goes down, we can’t schedule buses or update customers on whether their bus is coming,” said Graham Moore, Group Chief Information Officer at Stagecoach. “It’s of paramount importance in today’s digitally-driven world that our customers using the app – which tells them when a bus is due to arrive – can expect this to be a reliable and consistent service. Because the app works on a national basis but takes a feed from every machine on every site and every bus, the network going down on one site removes the transitions of ticket data for those buses, leaving essential functions blind.”

Moore added: “We also needed to adapt quickly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, to be able to remain connected and collaborative from remote locations. We had only just rolled out Office 365 and not yet fully harnessed its capabilities. Implementing appropriate processes and technologies for effective remote collaboration was high on the Stagecoach agenda.”

The solution:

To drive forward its Digital Transformation plans, Stagecoach has replaced its legacy WAN infrastructure with a new SD-WAN based architecture provided by Node4.

Node4 was carefully selected based on bespoke design, extensive networking experience and being an early MSSP adopter of SD-WAN technology. Stagecoach has already begun to replace its current legacy copper network infrastructure and move to a high-capacity fibre network across its 240 sites. This will reduce the overall cost of bandwidth. It will also allow Stagecoach to gain more control and capabilities, as the SD-WAN allows deployment across both MPLS and Internet-facing access circuits, while optimising secure access.

“With so many sites to roll the SD-WAN technology out to, Node4 has been a huge help with ensuring the process is more efficient and effective on both sides. Our teams work in unison to come up with designs and configurations and migration strategies so that everyone is fully versed in the process before we implement the tech,” said Moore.

Node4 has also enabled Stagecoach to implement its full suite of Office 365 collaboration technology to ensure that during COVID-19 and beyond, remote staff can keep working with a successful line of communication.

Moore continued: “I have been a Node4 customer previously and it is the right fit for Stagecoach because, while SLAs and contracts are great, what you need to know is that you have someone who is there when you need them – and the team at Node4 are always there. With Node4, we get to utilise the best technology that we need to progress our Digital Transformation plans, as well as a valued partnership rather than a typical supplier/customer relationship.”

The results:

There are three key areas where Stagecoach has and will continue to see benefits from working with Node4: collaboration, connectivity and security.

“The new network will give at least 10x more bandwidth across every Stagecoach site, from <2MB to dual links that are now on average 20MB each. This will improve working life significantly for depot employees – before, the network was so slow that employees would have to kill time making a cup of tea while the system tried to boot up,” said Moore.

“Working with Node4 is revolutionising performance – we have much more bandwidth to carry out innovative and business-driving projects,” said Moore. “The bandwidth also plays into cost optimisation, which is a key factor for the business. By enabling us to implement collaboration technologies we were previously lacking, we will see a significant reduction in travel costs.”

Security is another key component of the benefits Stagecoach will reap from the partnership, as IT teams will be able to look into network traffic more, understand what apps are using more bandwidth than others and give security the ability to block certain apps. Firewalls at the edge of every depot will be enabled for security around the perimeter, giving Stagecoach greater confidence and control.

Andrew Clark, Group Technology Senior Project Manager at Stagecoach, said: “Node4 does what it says on the tin and the team has been open and honest from the get-go, which is refreshing from a supplier and partner. This consistency is hugely important to us at Stagecoach for the future of our Digital Transformation journey.”

Intelligent CIO caught up with Graham Moore, Group Chief Information Officer at Stagecoach, to gain further insight into how Node4 has benefitted operations and helped to future-proof the business.

Why did you select Node4 as the vendor?

I’ve worked with Node4 previously and whenever I’ve needed them, they’ve been there. It is a company that I trust and continue to do so and is the right fit for where Stagecoach is now as a business.

How important is scalability for a company like Stagecoach?

Scalability is massively important. We were using infrastructure that was fairly old. I think some of the feedback you would get from our depots is that they would come in in the morning, put the kettle on while they log on and hopefully by the time the kettle’s boiled and they’d had their cup of tea, they could log on. That’s how slow it was. We adopted a cloud-first strategy and decided that the infrastructure was our main priority to underpin all of the improvements and enhancements we want to make from a system perspective.

How does downtime affect operations and how did Node4 help to prevent this?

Without the office network being in place, it prevents buses being on the road, quite literally. We are driving people towards more digital channels when it comes to purchasing tickets, for example. All of our real-time information comes back via the network in the offices. If we don’t have a network, we don’t see this information.

What developments and business benefits have you seen since the implementation and how have these impacted the end-user?

I think the main benefit from an end-user perspective is the efficiency that this gives us and the speed at which they are now working. Systems are quicker, connectivity is quicker, and this has been a massive benefit. We’ve seen huge benefits already and there are lots more to come.

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