Virtualisation strategies need to be based on business aims rather than the technology strategy dictating the business aims, according to Severn Trent Water.

“You need to look at virtualisation from a ‘business in’ perspective. Look at your business goals, and follow that through to the technology solution,” Myron Hrycyk, CIO at Severn Trent Water, told a HP Virtualisation Customer Roundtable.

The water company’s overall business objective was to deliver high quality customer service at a low a cost as possible.

Hrycyk determined that the objective would be achieved by creating a mobile and flexible workforce, before he looked at what technology would enable it. Furthermore, he wanted a technology platform that would facilitate the growth of its business and workforce, at the lowest cost possible.

 “At Severn Trent our virtualisation journey started off from a business strategy - lowest charges, high standards and growth. I wanted to deploy a technology platform that would enable people to work at any desk anywhere, at any time, including at home,” he said.

 “It is about accommodation, moving from ‘mine to own’ to ‘mine to share’, and transforming how we worked in terms of building new buildings. That business model could not be delivered with a thick client technology business model and that drove what the IT solution would be.”

Moving from a ‘mine to own’ to ‘mine to share’ mentality refers to the cultural transformation that Hrycyk believes is key to the water company successfully achieving its business change goals.

“It is a ‘business in’ not an ‘IT out’ initiative, and if you plan it right, you can get that ownership,” he said.

“People were giving back their laptops because they bought into the mindset of sharing. In our Midlands offices, people don’t have their own desks and there are no handsets. Everyone uses mobile phones.”

In addition, Hrycyk said that workers now share and collaborate better, leading to a significant increase in the workforce’s productivity.

The company is just coming to the end of its virtualised desktop rollout to its 3,000 staff. This includes 1,400 people who have been moved to a new office site in Coventry, where everyone now works in a virtualised environment.

If accessing their PCs from a Severn Trent office, employees need a password to connect them to the corporate network. For network access from home, two-factor authentication is used – which includes a text message sent to the employee’s mobile phone.

By making a large investment in servers from HP, Hrycyk said he was able to make a significant reduction in the server estate, and therefore operating costs.

The company runs a range of HP ProLiant servers and server blades, and HP StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Arrays and Tape Library. Its infrastructure also includes VMware ESX, VMware vCenter Site Recovery Manager, Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Operating System, Microsoft SQL Server 2005, SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and SAP Resource and Portfolio Management (RPM).

The desktop support is also more agile, and costs less due to the virtualised environment.

“I don’t need to renew the PC estate as often, and upgrades are far more agile to deploy,” said Hrycyk.

He added: “I’m already seeing reduced support costs at the desk side.”

The next step for the water company will be unified communications – an extension of the collaboration and mobility capabilities that the virtualisation technology offers.

“It’s about the presence, and being able to contact wherever they [workers] are,” said Hrycyk, who added that he whatever the new unified communications system is, he wants to keep the new technology estate as simple as possible.

Meanwhile, Hrycyk strongly believes that the next generation of workers will “live off their phone” – and this is a trend that he wants to enable, not resist.

“We’ve just about completed a trial to make sure we can deliver to iPads and iPhones. Now we are in a space to deliver securely and robustly to these devices. Devices are encrypted, and can be wiped remotely,” Hrycyk said.

Eventually, he would even like to enable mobile phones for use as security passes, and to support the company’s cashless offices.

However, the responsibility for devices will lie mainly with the mobile device owner – not with the company.

“I’ve got a vision that in a few years we will all being our own phones and I can see the business saying: ‘Here’s your IT allowance – use it how you want.’ I don’t want to get into the game of having to manage device upgrades.”