The Royal Mail Group (RMG) is the only organisation that delivers daily postal services to every household in the UK. It has 165,000 staff who process and deliver more than 70 million items to 28 million addresses across the country.
Each week RMG serves over 24 million customers through its network of 12,000 post offices and 3,000 separate processing sites. Its domestic and European parcels businesses – General Logistics Systems and Parcelforce Worldwide – handle some 404 million parcels a year.
Although currently government-owned, discussion are under way that could result in the organisation being partially privatised in the near future.
It recognised the pressing need to improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness of its in-house legacy technologies and began evaluating cloud computing solutions in 2008.
The elastic and flexible nature of cloud computing, which allows for capacity growth or shrinkage, together with the virtual elimination of up-front capital expenditure, were among the compelling drivers in favour of transitioning services into a cloud computing environment, according to RMG's head of infrastructure management, Adrian Steel.
Steel explained that, during the last quarter of 2008, RMG began evaluating a "complete redesign" of its email messaging service for 28,000 employees who were then tied to a legacy IBM Lotus Notes system.
The cost of running this "highly entrenched" Notes infrastructure was spiralling, while operational efficiency was being compromised because employees were struggling with the out-of-date software.
Moving legacy collaboration and email software into the cloud
Steel investigated the acquisition of a suite of business productivity tools using a flexible software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach with payment on demand from vendors, including Microsoft, Google and Lotus Live.
Over a nine-month options appraisal RMG also analysed available in-house solutions, including retaining the existing system with minor upgrades, moving to a new version of Lotus Notes, or replacing it with Microsoft Exchange Server.
After this in-depth evaluation RMG chose the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Dedicated (BPOS-D) Suite based on recommendations from its outsourcing partner CSC and its own research.
This solution, which has since been enhanced with the recent launch of Microsoft Office 365, provides Microsoft Exchange Online for email, Microsoft Office Communications Online for instant messaging, Microsoft Office SharePoint Online for collaboration, and Microsoft Office Live Meeting communications tools for web-based audio and videoconferencing.
Although cost savings were a major factor in the decision to adopt the Microsoft cloud solution, especially with the economy in recession, Steel stressed that the group was also focusing on the need to improve collaboration and give staff new more efficient and more functional communication and collaboration tools.
28,000 RMG staff migrated to cloud collaboration suite overnight
In the first eight weeks of deployment, 28,000 employees were supplied with their new collaboration suite, giving them access to tools such as instant messaging and presence awareness. Around 46 per cent of these 28,000 staff were fully migrated overnight.
"The transition was very successful, with huge customer satisfaction even though you were changing a core primary business tool. Now that we've been up and running for a good nine months, we're starting to see the full benefits of the transformation. The average on-premises mail box within Lotus Notes was constrained by disk, because point disk and backup capacity is quite expensive. So most staff had a 250MB inbox file under Lotus Notes. Everybody's got 5GB now in the cloud," Steel explained.
He added that the management overhead of maintaining these Notes inboxes was high: "We constantly had to email people out when we were on Lotus Notes, telling them to reduce their storage. Some people used to have to do a phenomenal amount of housekeeping, but now they don't have to do this they are much more productive."