Changing the barrels

Mitchells & Butlers, the hospitality chain behind such pub and restaurant brands as O’Neill’s, All Bar One and Harvester, had been with its outsourced data centre and network management supplier, IBM, for ten years when it decided it was time for a change.

"The technology was mostly ten years old, and we’d reached a point where making changes took too long," explains Martin Taylor, head of service delivery and infrastructure.

"Plus, we wanted to move to outcome-based services," he adds. "Rather than owning the assets ourselves, we wanted to define the services we need and let someone else think about the technical design."

In May 2011, the company tendered the data centre and network services contracts separately, but it ended up selecting IT services supplier Fujitsu, which already managed its outlet-based systems, for both contracts.

"As we developed the business case, we realised that we would achieve a number of synergies by receiving data centre and network services together," explains Taylor. "For example, it gives us one supplier relationship to manage, which is very useful from a service management perspective. When something goes wrong, there’s no debate over whose fault it is."

Nevertheless, the data centre and network services agreements are separate schedules on Mitchells & Butlers’ five-and-a-half-year contract with Fujitsu. “This means that we can break off one of the contracts if we need to,” says Taylor.

The company also decided to base various end-user computing systems such as file and print, email and voice-over-IP on the Fujitsu platform. "Previously, we had separate systems based in local branches," says Taylor. "We were preparing to tender for end-user computing services at the time, but we realised that we had an opportunity for further synergies by centralising them all in the data centre."

Fujitsu, like most of the other suppliers in the running, proposed a highly virtualised design. "Before this, less than 10% of our environment was virtualised," recalls Taylor. "After the deal is complete [the data centre transition is taking place now], we will be 80% to 85% virtualised."

Both data centre resources and network lines are supplied on a utility basis, meaning that Mitchells & Butlers can scale them up and down according to demand. "In no more than a week and, in as little as 48 hours, we can have a new server image built and up, and as soon as we stop using it, we stop paying for it," explains Taylor.

"I can easily scale up to 10% or 20% beyond the capacity I have currently," he adds. "Beyond that, I have to give them a couple of months’ notice, although I would pay the same price as I do now."

A platform for growth

Tailor describes the Fujitsu engagement as a platform for growth, in two senses. Firstly, it is designed to support business growth (and possible retraction). "Because of the way the pub business works, we have to be agile to acquisitions and divestments," he says. "So we need a model that allows us to dial up and down as we add or remove sites."

But it is also a platform for the growth of IT services within the business. Networking and data centre services play an increasing role in the services that Mitchells & Butlers offers in its pubs, and IT service is becoming synonymous with customer service.

For example, Mitchells & Butlers is currently trialling handheld, WiFi-connected order fulfilment devices. “These allow us to give a better level of service in the kitchen and the bar, and give our servers improved control over the orders,” explains Taylor. Further in the future, he envisages new IT-enabled entertainment services such as online quizzes.

“This is not just about cost,” says Taylor. “It is also about improving the level of service that we give to the employees who serve our customers in our pubs, and to our customers directly.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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