Addressing the Shifting IT Landscape

Brad Hardin, Global CTO, Black & Veatch
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Brad Hardin, Global CTO, Black & Veatch

The design and construction community is facing a unique set of opportunities and challenges as three key factors become increasingly relevant. The first is globalization and the need for our professionals to collaborate with each other all over the world in real-time. The second are the workers of the future, who are requesting different and more flexible working conditions and technologies. Lastly, increasing capabilities of the cloud in production, security and mobility are changing the overall value proposition of where work is produced and how information is shared. With a workforce of about 10,000 professionals in 100 countries, our success is often governed by our ability to collaborate effectively wherever our associates are.

One solution we have in beta testing is a Virtual Desktop Environment (VDE). Using a public cloud provider as the launch pad, the Black & Veatch VDE platform will allow our professionals to work together in near real-time. While VDI and VDE aren’t new, the rapid technology advancements and optimization tools now available have made this offering more compelling than in the past. This potentially eliminates the need for data replication tools and traditional LAN server environments by establishing rules around where our data should be redundant and available.

"It is important to make accessibility to information easy for the associates"

VDE also provides professionals with the ability to choose the tools they wish to add to their virtual profile through the use of a customized System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) application. This tool allows users untethered access to the applications in Black & Veatch’s ecosystem, which they need to do their work. Most of our systems are on network license servers. This means we can integrate “time out” policies that pull back a license of a tool due to inactivity to make it available for other users. This means we are able to be smarter about the license counts we have, as well as better understand utilization rates to look for trends and patterns in use.

The critical component of the VDE environment is putting the production application and file storage as close to each other as possible, often on the same virtual servers. We have found that there currently is not just one vendor or technology that can meet all of the needs we have as a business. However, by using a hybrid approach with the public cloud platform as the “home base” we can tap into other providers offering custom solutions for applications that require higher performing GPU and processors from other providers.

The “worker of the future” is a combination of Gen Y’ers and Millennials entering the design and construction industries, who wish to work differently. These new professionals want a mobile enabled, flexible, plug and play environment. While this aligns to our VDE goals, there are other solutions that are coming into play. These professionals value information highly and they rely on peer to peer sharing tools, both external and internal. Internal social networks, such as Yammer, are allowing professionals to ask questions, collaborate and share solutions quickly, regardless of location. External information finding has shifted for this group. We are finding that newer professionals no longer “Google for an answer” rather they “YouTube it.” Instead of combing through websites for the desired answers, these professionals prefer quickly digestible video content. While this means increased bandwidth, we feel that it is important to make accessibility to information easy for these associates.

Additionally, younger staff members want to work in more collaborative spaces outside of a being tethered to a desk. As professionals become more mobile, increasing Wi-Fi bandwidth in our offices has become a major priority. We see the usefulness of co-located project team spaces in our offices and continue to grow their availability.

Construction jobsites are inherently more collaborative because of the premium for on-site office space real estate so we are using collaborative tools, such as touch screen displays to best utilize real estate in the field and tablets to make information available on-site. These investments are already creating returns in simple efficiencies because of the reduction in printing and data input redundancy.

Lastly, the cloud is now reaching the point of viability in terms of costs, effectiveness and scalability. Many of the challenges that existed before such as internet availability, supporting software and data center locations are now rapidly dissipating. The internet is increasingly becoming available on a global scale. Although internet availability is growing, there are current limitations today that must be navigated in order to best enable cloud technology globally. Developing countries pose a particular challenge as internet infrastructure and basic human infrastructure may not be fully built out. In these cases, the use of satellite providers can be implemented, but must be balanced with costs. Overall, the availability and costs of access to the internet should remain competitive as well as address our needs for future scale.

The rising costs of on-premise servers and network maintenance is creating an opportunity to better use our current IT spends. Similar to other companies like ours, the move to an Infrastructure as a Service model (IaaS) shows solid immediate returns, while over the long term, creating significant value. We believe that some of these savings can potentially be re-allocated to other needed IT investments to further improve our business and meet other business needs.

Ultimately, we are aligning our organization to be connected and scalable. We are making investments to support these efforts with additional scrutiny and governance being put on systems and tools that inhibit this ability. Some cases require in-depth discussions with vendors on their future state plans to ensure that their offerings will align over time with our goals. We believe that the potential risks of the cloud and virtualization technologies outweigh the value of traditional network solutions and provide us a way of addressing the shifting IT landscape and needs of the future workforce.

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