P&O – recently acquired by Dubai Ports World – has roots stretching back to 1837 when it went under the suitably imperial name of The Peninsular Steam & Oriental Navigation Company. P&O Ferrymasters is a subsidiary of the P&O Ferries part of the organisation as opposed to the P&O Ports stream.

Its contribution to the overall group’s £2.4bn sales in 2005 was some £325m, shipping a quarter of a million tons of freight.

"The problem was that each company had its own IT department, systems, network and hardware. So we had little or no compatibility and few were 2000 compliant"

Steve Walters, IT director, P&O Ferrymasters

In IT terms, the organisation of 30 IT professionals under IT director Steve Walters, services over 1,100 staff internally as well as some 80 external bureau customers.

M&A history

Since 1998, consolidation has become a big focus for Walters. “The Ferrymasters company was created by merging various existing P&O companies and then some subsequent acquisitions,” he says.

“The problem was that each company had its own IT department, systems, network and hardware. So we had little or no compatibility and few were 2000 compliant.”

Walters also had to cope with a geographically distributed organisation, with Ferrymasters offices ranging from Ipswich to Dublin to Gothenburg.

Consolidation drive

Some kind of rationalisation seemed justified – not just for year 2000 reasons, of course. “I wanted to find ways to improve operational efficiency, cut complexity, have a better disaster recovery plan and control security as well as, of course, reduce costs,” he points out.

Not that it was an overnight job. An audit revealed to Walters and his team that he had an IT portfolio including AS/400, AIX, NT and UnixWare, as well as software ranging from Oracle to Sybase to Unidata.

Cutting down coda

The firm saw the way forward as consolidating networks, reducing platforms and consolidating applications, especially accounting and finance, down to just one coda. Walters believes by partnering with Unisys, the company was able to fast track some of these ideas by using that company’s technology in the shape of a server that supported multiple OS in one box. The path since 1998 has more or less gone smoothly once these aims were set, claims Walters. The highlights include the successful consolidation of all the disparate IT departments, reduction in IT headcount, reduction in core applications and a projected saving of £700,000 because of having one central communications network.

Rational man

“Along the way we have lost 20 NT servers, two AS/400s, four UnixWare servers but so far just one of the four Windows 2000 servers,” he admits. P&O Ferrymasters plans further rationalisation, Walters assures CIO UK with the air of a man on a long term mission.

“When I came in 1998 we had eight IT departments and six different databases – and I was told we had four AS/400s when we actually had 10,” says Walters.

Just do not call him visionary. “We’re not visionary – just cheap,” he laughs.