UCaaS supports British Medical Journal’s cloud-first ambitions
With a growing global business and a CIO intent on doing everything in the cloud, the British Medical Journal turned to unified communications-as-a-service provider RingCentral to make its comms infrastructure fit for the cloud era.
Under the direction of chief digital officer Sharon Cooper, the British Medical Association-owned organisation has undergone extensive upgrades to its IT capabilities. It has called on Google’s cloud-based productivity suite, and more recently refined a multi-cloud strategy that saw 200 on-premise servers move into the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud in 2017. It has also introduced Alibaba public cloud to support its growth in China.
According to Arron Townsend, head of service delivery at the BMJ, the business has benefited from its cloud-first policy in a number of ways. These include introducing a DevOps-centric culture to the organisation and enabling more flexible working by giving staff anytime, anywhere access to critical applications. It was this growth in flexible, remote working that forced the BMJ to address its unified communications (UC) needs.
Here, the BMJ’s IT team hit a snag, because with the wider BMA generally running Microsoft cloud services and the BMJ running Google, Microsoft’s UC package Skype for Business wasn’t going to cut it because any service it adopted would need to work across multiple cloud platforms to operate effectively within the whole organisation. This need ultimately led Townsend to UC-as-a-service (UCaaS) supplier RingCentral.
“I remember going to [sector trade show] UC Expo three years ago,” he says. “ I walked into Olympia looking for a UC provider that would work with Google and, other than one tiny corner, it was Microsoft across the board. I only talked to one provider who worked with Google, and that was RingCentral.”
For RingCentral’s Emea managing director, Sahil Rehki, the cloud has become a key driver behind customer buying decisions.
“On-prem [UC] deployments are declining 11-12% year on year, while cloud is growing at 21-22%,” he says. “RingCentral is growing at 34%.
“A good majority of our business is replacing legacy. If you look at the market 18-24 months back, you still had to go and educate as to why a move to cloud was beneficial, but I no longer have to have that conversation. Nobody is asking me why they should keep their existing Avaya or Cisco estate – they want to move to the cloud.
“The question now is how to do so, and how that move affects people and processes.”
The BMJ is almost a textbook example of such a customer. It used to use the BMA’s on-premise private branch exchange (PBX), but this was creaking at the seams and no longer fit for purpose, said Townsend.
“If I needed to work from home or was travelling on business, I would have to try to run an old-style version of Avaya one-X on my mobile,” he says. “I was running it without support and if I wanted it on my laptop, I had to VPN into the office and try to run an antiquated system that wasn’t designed for that. Every time my phone got wiped, I had to recall all my settings and set that up from scratch on a crashing app.
“As head of service delivery, I could work through those problems – but imagine being a general member of staff without a tech background using a solution like that. It was very messy.”
Compounding the problem, being a Google house meant it was nigh on impossible for the BMJ to use a common set of tools to talk to its colleagues in China, where Google services are largely banned. It could use Hangouts with its offices in the US and India, but for China it had to resort to the government-approved WeChat, which is widely used for messaging, social networking, and even mobile payments in China, but is virtually unknown in the West.
After extensive conversations with the supplier, and hearing the news that the BMA was moving ahead with a Skype for Business deployment and therefore planned to decommission the old PBX within six months, Townsend and RingCentral had to move quickly.
“We told them we’d be off in four,” he says. “We gave RingCentral two weeks to put their money where their mouth was, and they did everything from setting up the new exchange, setting up rules, and running a proof-of-concept [PoC] across our staff from executives to remote workers, sales and editorial.”
The BMJ’s executive team ultimately signed off on the RingCentral deployment after a global conference call made while a number of its key decision-makers were travelling to a conference in Mexico. This was facilitated by the PoC installation.
“It made it much easier to get sign-off when the solution I was asking them to approve was seamlessly running the session they were in,” says Townsend. “And because half the exchange was already set up for the PoC, it made going live a much easier transition.”
Since the full deployment, the benefits for the BMJ’s workforce have been readily apparent to Townsend, although perhaps not to everyone in the business.
“Because we have this flexible working policy, we see this as a nice benefit,” he says. “I’m just back from the US and I could just turn up, switch on my laptop, plug in my headset, and people could call me and not realise I was away from the office, let alone abroad. It just makes life a lot easier and people aren’t thinking about lots of different ways of doing things.”
For the BMJ’s IT team, the introduction to RingCentral has helped improve its support processes by enabling Townsend to transition some elements over to the BMJ from the BMA. Because his team has full visibility of the settings on the RingCentral service, they can offer more immediate point-to-point support, and BMJ staff feel more comfortable engaging with people they already know.
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