Upgrade leads Sasktel down XP path

Regina-based communications company and provincial crown corporation Saskatchewan Telecommunications (Sasktel) never had much of a reason to move off of its mostly Windows 95-based desktops – until a new CRM package forced the move to the XP operating system in June of last year.

“We were looking at going to Siebel as a CRM solution here,” explained Sasktel’s chief technology officer, Kym Wittal. “Then we made the discovery that Siebel didn’t work with Windows 95. We had no impetus for us to move before then…but it was the Siebel implementation that kicked us off.”

Other than “a few instances of Windows 98, Me and 2000,” Sasktel also had some Macintosh computers hanging around, mostly because a number of its 4,000 employees were using Mac-specific tools that “had a nice GUI, and were wonderful from a service perspective. But lately we’ve discovered that the Mac environment is second fiddle” when it comes to what environment people are deploying the most these days, Wittal said.

“Some technologies deployed in the Mac environment are becoming difficult to keep because [other vendors] are not continuing to support them.”

Wittal said he suspects that his team took a “cursory scan” of other desktop options such as Linux, but in the end the final verdict was to stick with Windows because “we are very much a Microsoft shop. We didn’t really want to do too big of a change, the idea being that really the operating system change is not just a simple change of adding new software on the desktop.”

Enterprises have to consider how the change will affect their business processes and applications, he said. “Converting to an entirely new operating system is a bigger deal, and we didn’t want to go through those two steps simultaneously – we didn’t think there was any viable alternative (to Windows) at that time.”

The process put forward by the project manager was to first build a business case around what to do, Wittal said. “It was not just about taking Windows 95 out and putting in XP. We did some LDAP directory things at the same time, we had some legacy applications that needed to be converted or that had to be upgraded. The OS change dictated a bunch of business application changes.”

Wittal said the project manager tackled the migration as a series of projects. The main one was the Windows XP conversion. But underneath that were several sub-projects related to dealing with all the changes to applications and directories.

“We sort of met the date and budget,” Wittal said. The target date was June 2003 and the budget was about $8 million. “We were quite happy, as 99 per cent of the work was done as scheduled.”

Wittal emphasized that the budget took into account “not just Windows XP, but also the labour to convert the outsourcing of some tasks, the LDAP install. The program was eight million bucks but the Windows XP piece was certainly not that large.” Implementing XP means that Sasktel was able to create a desktop standard build, “decreasing the number of desktop images from nine down to two,” Wittal said. “There is less to manage at the end of the day and you make them all look the same because that’s all you really need.” Having a standard build makes it easier to troubleshoot problems “instead of trying to find a needle in a haystack,” he added.

Sasktel also uses a “lock-down” or policy administration feature available in XP that applies different policies to different groups of people within the organization. “Most of our end users don’t have rights to deploy software on their machine,” Wittal said. That reduces the frequency of system crashes, which “starts to cut down support costs,” he said.

Since the migration to Windows XP and Office XP, Wittal said Sasktel has recorded some significant savings. “We’ve seen a 4.5 per cent productivity gain for end users, a system performance increase of 10 to 15 per cent; 94.79 to 99.95 per cent availability improvement; and a total of $15 million annual cost savings and improved productivity,” he said, adding that these numbers have “gone through a due diligence process,” audited by analyst firm Gartner of Stamford, Conn.

Wittal said there are “no surprises” when it comes to best operating system upgrade practices.

“Understand your business drivers…certainly understand your cost – all the facets, all kinds of ancillary things that have to be done,” including the applications that have to be changed, and the users who will be affected.

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