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CIO Shawn Partridge: Rockford improves communication in the construction world

Shawn Partridge explains how his company implemented VPN and other technologies to facilitate communication with off-site employees.

SearchCIO.com talks to Shawn Partridge, vice president of IT at Rockford Construction Co.

SPEAKER'S BIOGRAPHY: Partridge oversaw an effort in 2008 to utilize hardware virtual private networks to the company's remote work sites. Staff members can now communicate more quickly with on-site associates and provide better information to customers using Voice over Internet Protocol and webcams.

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Read the full transcript from this podcast below:

CIO Shawn Partridge: Rockford improves communication in the construction world

Rachel Lebeaux:  This is Rachel Lebeaux from SearchCIO-midmarket.com, and I am speaking to Shawn Partridge of Rockford Construction Co.  Shawn, can you give us an overview of your project?  What were your business goals, and what did the project accomplish?

Shawn Partridge:  Well our biggest goals were to bring the network up to a modern platform to be able to better use technology, not only for our internal users, but also for external customers to be able to access data, and communicate with our users.

We went through a large platform change moving from physical servers into a virtualized environment which we backed up with a sand solution as well. That allowed us to not only go to a smaller footprint, both from a server room standpoint of using less electricity, and less heating, and cooling for that environment, but also lower maintenance costs, and ongoing expenses to manage those servers.

Rachel Lebeaux:  Great, what sort of applications did you use? And how are the existing applications you had integrated?

Shawn Partridge:  Well, we're pretty much a Microsoft shop. We use Exchange, SharePoint, File Print Servers; those are the applications that we're running on our servers. The underlying virtualization platform that we chose, we went with Virtual Iron, and that gave us a lot better performance from a cost standpoint than competing products did. Those worked out very well for us, and continued to see improvements with each new version of that software that comes out.

Rachel Lebeaux:   What sort of improvements are you seeing?

Shawn Partridge:  We see not only from a speed standpoint, which is always good to see, but the fault tolerance and availability features that have been improved. We can now survive from a downed physical server with zero loss from our users. They actually experience no downtime as those environments move from one physical box to another. If there were a failure, or when we take them down to do scheduled maintenance, we don't have to take down the hosted applications for those.

Rachel Lebeaux:   Great. Were any of the applications you had to purchase, were they unplanned?

Shawn Partridge:  No, everything that we did luckily went along very well. We had no unforeseen expenses in this project.

Rachel Lebeaux:   Great. Well now the project is completed, how have you calculated, or demonstrated its ROI to your business?

Shawn Partridge:  Well we didn't have to do a ROI calculation as this is a planned improvement. So it was a platform upgrade for us, so from the platform standpoint we didn't have to justify that, it was a known expense, and basically a necessity of the project to be done.

On the positive side, we've seen an enhanced speed and performance of the   system. So we have that incalculable realization that more work is being done in the same or less amount of time. We also have less downtime, so we've eliminated the downtime in the fact that we've had no unscheduled downtime since the systems come in place, and that's just a value that we haven't calculated.

Rachel Lebeaux:  Are there other metrics that you've used to calculate your return on the investment?

Shawn Partridge:  No, we've haven't, we actually are using this platform going forward to implement new projects, and software that we're actually going to be able to do ROI on. Since this was basically a platform upgrade for us, we weren't looking to get a return out of this, but being able to add projects on top of this in which we will be able to show ROI on.

Rachel Lebeaux:  Okay, great so going forward what sort of projects are you looking at for the new platform?

Shawn Partridge:  Absolutely, well we're going to be bringing our websites, we're going to start hosting those in-house which we have outside right now. We're going to be doing a lot of integration with our websites and our SharePoint server to be able to share site information with owners which we now have to do relay through email, or phone calls.

So (we are) able to give a larger amount of information out to owners without having to spend more time on it. It's going to be a big one that we're looking at: basically, unified communication. The ability we're going to have to be able to tie in our phones, faxes, emails, everything together to kind of provide a one, one point of contact for all of the outside customers, and vendors reaching any of our users inside the company.

Rachel Lebeaux:   That sounds great. So what's the next hot technology coming along? And how do     you envision incorporating that into Data Center in the next few years?

Shawn Partridge:  Well if everything goes well we're looking at a back up project that we're going to be starting here soon. Backup has been a huge challenge for us, as I'm sure it has for a lot of companies. It's no longer a matter of just being able to make a copy of the data and stick it on the shelf. So we're looking at being able to backup our data, replicate that data offsite, be able to move data into archives, whether that archive is tape, or disc, but it be able to spin down those discs, be able to save on costs.

Again trying to be as environmentally friendly as we can. But also encrypting that data, and de-duplicating the data so that there's less of it, and what it is, is encrypted. So I just increased security, and compliance.

Rachel Lebeaux:  Great. What advice would you give other IT directors who are looking to implement similar systems?

Shawn Partridge:  I would say to take a look at as many solutions as you can, and test them as thoroughly as you can. Most companies will give you demo's that you can try out in your own environment, and I highly recommend to try them out. See how they're going to work for you. Just because it's a great solution for someone else doesn't mean it's the right fit for you. You have to find something that's going to work for you, in your environment, and for your company. To just pick a single solution without trying it out is just asking for some trouble.

Rachel Lebeaux:   What sort of factors do you think they should be looking for in testing them out?

Shawn Partridge:  Well, cost is always a forefront I think for just about anybody. It doesn't matter if it's a perfect solution, but if it's over your budget it's just not acceptable. So once you can constrain the costs, when you're looking at performance, usability, and skill set is a big one, and if it's a great product, but you don't have the ability to use it, or use it to its full extent, you're not getting your money's worth out of it, and the project can ultimately fail.

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