Case Study: Managing IT at Reuters

About the company

A globally renowned news agency and financial information provider, Reuters has 2,300 journalists and 600 photographers in 196 bureaux in around 130 countries. Together they file 2.5 million news stories a year, stories read by over a billion people a day. It is the role of Keith Mitchell, Reuters' global head of shared services management and design, to enable employees to connect to the company network wherever they are. His role involves designing and administering telecommunications networks, as well as overseeing the technical design of management systems, server builds, back-up and recovery, and storage area networks.

Mitchell's largest ongoing project is migrating Reuters' wide area networks (WAN) to a managed service run by BT, a contract worth around $3 billion over eight and a half years and BT's largest outsourcing deal at the time of its signing. During 2005, Reuters has also been rolling out a new remote access system from mobile connectivity service vendor iPass, which manages Internet connections from laptops in the field and home workers' PCs. The system has around 1,000 active users, mostly journalists.

The Reuters IT organisation is divided between the Shared Services group and the Information Systems and Technology group, headed by CIO David Lister, which oversees internal applications. The company recently began a process of embedding most of its IT staff in business units as a means of better aligning IT to the needs of its internal ‘customers'. In June 2005, Reuters became the last major news organisation to leave Fleet Street, moving its corporate headquarters to a new building in London's Canary Wharf.

Information Age (IA): Reuters recently moved into a new building at Canary Wharf. What were your information management goals for the ‘greenfield' site and what are your major ongoing projects?

Keith Mitchell (KM): We're pushing the concept of smart working here. This building is all wall-to-wall IP phones, we have intelligent messaging, so if you call me at my desk and leave a voicemail, it emails a WAV file to me. We are also trialling the Cisco IP communicator, which is a ‘softphone', so I can sign onto my desktop from home and use my softphone as if I was in the office. For those who can be mobile, we provide them with the tools to do so. Theoretically every member of staff has the ability to work from home; about 20% to 30% do so. And by the sheer nature of the business a lot of people are travelling.

The other big project in my area is that we are migrating the Reuters WAN from in-house to a managed service by BT – which is absolutely huge. The main drivers for moving to the managed network are to improve the service we provide to Reuters clients, both in provisioning and service recovery. The way we can do that is by moving across to a common-standard network platform and by working with someone who has the best practices around that capability. As with a lot of outsourcing operations, there is a cost element to that as well, but the service to clients outweighs that.

IA: In the last year you have upgraded your remote working systems. Why?

KM: Previously we were using a service that was, to some degree, expensive. It was limited in the number of points of presence we could access. So on occasion, we had to go and provision local ISP services with local telcos – and if we were going somewhere like Kuwait or Doha we were paying premium rates. If you're negotiating on a one-off basis, just using it for a couple of weeks at a time, it becomes quite expensive. And we were having more and more journalists deployed on the road.

After putting it out to tender, there were a couple of reasons why we chose [mobile connectivity service vendor] iPass: They didn't necessarily have points of presence in all the locations that we wanted but they expressed a desire to work with us in addressing that.

The other aspect that moved us to choosing iPass was cost, and their willingness to work with us from a technology perspective. iPass were prepared to embed [VPN access and authentication] into their client – so the journalist on the road who has just written a story and needs to file it, can get in and out of the network as fast as possible. So we needed something that was very simple: tell iPass where you are, choose a location and network, dial up, and it does everything else. It signs in to the iPass network, authenticates to our VPN services and then users can file their story and get out again.

Name: Keith Mitchell

Company: Reuters

Title: Global head of shared services management and design

Key challenge: To enable journalists and staff to connect to the company network from anywhere in the world, while managing a major WAN outsourcing project.

With the previous service, you were really limited to one telco – so you had to keep retrying if it was busy etc. But the iPass solution pings through a list of five and if it can't connect to the first one it zings through all the others without you as an end user having to bother about it.

Our vision is that we have one user interface, it doesn't matter if you're already at home or limited to dial-up or ISDN, or you're lucky enough to have wireless ADSL or one day that 3G or GPRS actually converges into the same platform as well.

IA: How do users authenticate themselves to the VPN?

KM: We have a number of levels of authentication. The first one is the user has to be known to the iPass network. The second is using a digital secure card where the number rotates on a random basis. That goes through our secure authentication server here. And then there's a third level when you get to the application level. That's based on our own internal security policy. We want to know who the journalist is that's writing on the application itself.

The digital secure card is the same as the one we were using before going with iPass, but the difference is that connecting to the two applications is automatically linked, whereas beforehand it would have been a separate keystroke.

IA: What does the IT department gain from the new system?

KM: It definitely helped us in terms of the IT budget – we now have a better feel for what we're actually spending and we did see our costs go down. Even though we've got more people using the iPass service today than on our previous service, the overall remote access costs are actually lower. We've taken away the need for all these separate local ISP subscriptions that people were signing up for.

And the other beauty of it is that the end user doesn't see the ISP; they just see a number they dial into. In the past, you could get into a situation where people prefer one ISP over another, because they know the ISPs in that particular region. The approach I like to take is that we are telco-provider neutral for remote access, and I would rather have iPass manage that than Reuters. If there are problems with the service from that local ISP, you have a better chance of that issue being addressed by someone with the wholesale capability of iPass than some local users from Reuters using that local telco.

IA: The iPass system allows you to identify bandwidth-hungry users. How do you handle them?

KM: One of the things we noticed in the initial deployment of iPass was that some people were probably using the service inefficiently – they would connect, file the story and then stay online for two hours. So now, rather than have a policy in there to disconnect them after 30 minutes – because there might be a legitimate reason why they need to stay online for two hours – we contact those people and say: "Are you having a problem using the service?"

IA: Some companies have used this sort of cost visibility to charge business units for their IT usage to better align the two. Would you consider that?

KM: I don't think so, for two reasons. Last year we consolidated all the communications costs into one budget to give clear visibility, which was a horrible administrative exercise. There are hundreds of cost centres related to comms.

Also, we went through a process earlier this year to transition our technology groups into the business. That means that because our technology costs are incorporated into the business division, they have full visibility of them. So when they sanction a particular business initiative, they see all of the costs as a result of that. Hence we don't need to get back into a chargeback scenario.

IA: What are the broader advantages of embedding IT people in the business?

KM: I think it knocks down a lot of these barriers in terms of the business perception of technology as, "It's technology, it's different, it's horrible, I don't understand it, I don't understand their cost base." It also builds a bridge in terms of how, from a business perspective, you get the best leverage from the technology you're using. Certainly what we're seeing is there's a lot more engagement in the business with innovative things they want to do with technology. I think from a technology perspective, it gives a sense of ownership within the organisation, it's not left out on the side and seen as a cost centre. We feel part of the business now and you actually see the value of what you deliver. It works.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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