In 2010, TECO Energy, one of the largest energy and utility companies in Florida, faced a computing infrastructure of aging hardware and obsolete software that created stability and performance problems and hindered business productivity. Most of the company’s 2,800-plus desktop and laptop computers were five years old or older and were running the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Computer startup was painfully slow, which discouraged employees from installing upgrades and security patches that would require them to restart their computers. When a computer needed reimaging, the employee faced an even greater delay because this manual process took an on-site technician four hours or more to complete.
TECO Energy’s management team realized that something had to be done. It put together a crossfunctional team drawn from four IT divisions: Business Computing Services, Infrastructure, Information Systems, and Information Security. This core team was tasked with wiping the slate clean and designing a new desktop infrastructure that would improve performance and enable greater business productivity. Two things were critical to the new infrastructure design: using tools that integrated well and minimizing the use of extraneous software that consumed precious computing resources.
The team had to make a number of decisions about the direction of the new desktop platform. In addition, it had to ensure that the decisions it made were not only the right ones, but that they would be supported throughout the organization. To accomplish that, the team formed a steering committee comprised of director-level employees from many areas of the company. The committee was charged with helping the core team make crucial project decisions, as well as disseminating information to employees in their work areas. The core team kept the steering committee up to date on the status of the project through e-mail and monthly meetings, and consulted them to help make additional strategy decisions.
With the steering committee in place, the core team went to work drafting a recommendation for the new desktop strategy. The strategy included, but was not limited to, hardware specifications, the Windows version and edition, remote access, antivirus, and other standard applications. The core team recommended that strategy to the steering committee, where it was tuned and finalized. The final report recommended that IT purchase new hardware and install updated software, including Windows 7 Enterprise 64-bit, Office 2010 Professional, Forefront Client Security, and DirectAccess (for remote connectivity). TECO Energy’s management approved the purchase of new hardware and authorized the IT department to move forward with installing Microsoft Windows 7 and other up-to-date software. However, before the first new piece of hardware could be purchased, the IT organization had to tackle TECO Energy’s software portfolio, which included nearly 1,000 different applications.
The core team selected the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 to take advantage of its processing and memory improvements. Because of that decision, software remediation became one of the team’s biggest challenges. Information Systems took the lead on this aspect of the project, and worked with Business Computing Services to identify and test all of the applications being used throughout the company (nearly 1,000 different applications!). That effort led to the core team assembling a group of subject matter experts (SMEs), which became one of the keys to the project’s success.
Our SMEs were company employees who had been identified by IT as having significant knowledge of the technology needs of their respective departments. IT spent a great deal of time with the SMEs identifying the software being used on each computer in their business areas. IT also took the opportunity to consolidate similar applications and remove obsolete software from the company’s software portfolio. The SMEs helped the core team design software bundles that contained groups of applications tailored to various departments or roles within the organization. Next, IT needed an efficient way to manage all the information it had collected. The initial approach was to use an Excel spreadsheet, but it soon became obvious that the spreadsheet would not be a good long-term solution. IT decided to create a custom database.
IT personnel entered application details, bundle configuration, testing, and remediation information into the new database. The information also could be viewed by our SMEs, enabling them to track the progress of application remediation in their departments. As the project moved forward, the database evolved from a repository of information about applications to a tool that helped manage the deployment of computers throughout the company. Each new computer records included the serial number, assigned employee, software bundle, date of deployment, and so on, giving the IT organization the ability to manage individual computers. With the database completed and application remediation underway, IT was ready to begin purchasing the new hardware.
With the hardware order placed, the challenge for the Business Computing Services (BCS) division was to develop an automated solution that could quickly configure each computer with the new operating system and standard software, as well as departmental and individual software applications for each employee. A zero-touch, automated solution would allow BCS to make the build process more efficient, while also greatly minimizing the impact on individual employees. To begin the process, BCS built a hardwareindependent image using Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit. This image contained the Windows 7 operating system as well as a number of standard software applications. Hardware queries enabled the installation of different software packages based on the configuration of a device. BCS also used HP’s System Software Manager to automate hardware driver installation. Once started, the entire imaging process could be completed in about thirty minutes, without any operator intervention.
The next step involved configuring each computer with departmental and individual applications. The application packages were designed to load silently through InstallShield AdminStudio and other scripting techniques; they were then added to SCCM and assigned to the appropriate software bundle or individual computer. After completing the imaging process, the computer was automatically added to SCCM where it was assigned a software bundle. Without any further operator intervention, the applications began installing, one after another. Any computer, fully configured and customized for a specific individual, could be ready for delivery in less than an hour.
Quality assurance meetings were held with the deployment team each week to review the schedule for the coming weeks. The time was used to discuss any deployment issues or lessons learned, and to ensure that the hardware was imaged and ready to go. Typically, hardware deployment was scheduled to take place after hours, to minimize disruptions. Because the image and software bundle had been installed on each computer in advance, the employee was able to begin work upon arrival the following day. That morning, IT staff would be on hand for the so-called “last mile” configuration. That was time reserved for assisting employees with their newly deployed computers. If any additional software was needed, it could be added at this time. The primary purpose of the “last mile” was to ensure that employees who had received new computers were fully functional before IT moved on to the next deployment.
The new process saved IT countless hours of imaging, loading different configurations of software applications, and customizing. Prior to this deployment, preparing a computer took more than four hours of a technician’s time, and was much more disruptive for the employee. Surveys received from employees after the deployment have shown that 94 percent are either satisfied or very satisfied with the rollout of their new machines. The process was not only more efficient; it also provided great customer service. IT can now use this method to restore problematic machines faster than before. Computers with corrupt software can be automatically reimaged and reconfigured in less than an hour. And now that we have remote install capabilities, when an employee calls the service desk to request an application, the software or application installation can be triggered by the service desk analyst during the initial conversation. This saves time for the employee and avoids a site visit from a field technician.
TECO Energy employees also benefited directly from the new computers and their redesigned infrastructure. Performance increased dramatically, and startup time was reduced from as long as thirty minutes to less than two minutes, in most cases. TECO Energy’s new hardware and software strategy will ensure that the organization is ready for upcoming technology challenges, and the time savings and customer service benefits will continue to provide value far into the future.
For more information on TECO Energy’s Windows 7 deployment, visit www.microsoft.com/casestudies (keyword: TECO Energy).
Mark Dorsett is an enterprise analyst with TECO Energy, Inc. With over twenty-seven years of IT experience, Mark has gained significant insights into the best practices of configuring, deploying, and supporting the desktop environment. He was the project lead for TECO Energy’s Windows 7 deployment and drew on his experience to overcome the many challenges encountered during the complete replacement and upgrade of the desktop infrastructure.