Competing effectively in a digital economy

For, after almost 30 years in IT at the recruitment company he’s seen the business move from mainframes, Rolodexes, memo pads and dial telephones to the sophisticated, IP-based, virtualised, thin client environment of today.

Now, having overseen five major technology change programs at the company already, he has embarked on yet another extensive update of the company’s IT. This time a root and branch upgrade of networking and connectivity, moving Reed from a legacy WAN infrastructure to one based on fibre and Ethernet connectivity.

The objective: meet the company’s growing appetite for flexibility and bandwidth as it embraces increasingly sophisticated applications and solutions. The end goal: better equip Reed for the future and help it stay ahead in professional recruitment.

The vendor partner chosen for this latest journey in Reed’s digital transformation agenda is Gamma. The move will see every one of Reed’s 122 offices in the UK and Ireland linked by Ethernet to Gamma’s high capacity fibre network.

It will provide bandwidth, resilience and reliability on an unprecedented scale, and give Reed the capacity for future generation rich media interactive applications as well as supporting Gamma’s market-leading SIP telephony.

Sean Whetstone, head of IT services at Reed Specialist Recruitment has not just seen it and done it. By now he’s probably got a whole drawer full of T-shirts to prove it. And justifiably so.

Intelligent solution

Gamma won the deal based on its commercial terms, the intelligent technical solution it proposed and the rigorous due diligence Whetstone and his team performed on the company. And when Whetstone says rigorous, he means rigorous with a capital R.

“I’m not impressed by salesmen’s talk or slick PowerPoint presentations. Promises on paper are all well and good but the real measure of a supplier is in doing the proper due diligence. Lifting manhole covers, looking at cables, peering under rocks.

“The network underpins our whole digital strategy. It’s our enabler to evolve in today’s digital arena. Without it we can’t do business. It’s all about making sure the reliability and scalability is there. Making sure the supplier is ready to deliver on their promises.”


Voice still key

Reed’s business is all about matching people with employers and with jobs. And here human factors enter the equation. Despite the cool factor of instant messaging, social media, email and video, when it comes to finding a job people still like to talk on the phone.

To this end Reed has switched to Gamma’s SIP telephony on its existing Mitel PBX platforms. The results have been impressive, bringing a rationalisation of Reed’s entire voice infrastructure and a dramatic reduction in telephony costs of some £450,000 a year.

As well as savings on telephony there are benefits for data. Bandwidth is increasing 10-fold with no upfront costs and no increase in recurring costs. At the same time service levels are increasing significantly.



Whetstone acknowledges that deploying all-new fibre networking across the organisation and migrating from the previous solution was always going to be a big challenge. That made the choice of supplier all the more critical. But having seen Gamma’s work for other enterprise customers he was confident the company would deliver.

“I really see it as a stand out benefit that in Gamma we’re working with a passionate, committed team of people we can trust. That’s often the difference between the success or failure of a project like this. We’d never see the same degree of attention to detail from everyone else.

“For us Gamma is just the right kind of organisation to be dealing with. When we talk they listen and we have the ear of the board if we want it. That’s something we could never get from another supplier. We don’t want to be perceived as a small player.”

All modesty aside, it’s unlikely anyone would call Reed small. As a group, it is the biggest family-owned recruitment business in the world and has the UK’s largest current database of job candidates. It employs approaching 3,000 people of its own across 460 business units in 130 locations worldwide. That said, the bulk of its operations call the UK home.

Critical fibre deployment

To support the virtualised digital side of its business, Reed has chosen a fully-managed network service from Gamma. This supports staff equipped with thin clients at its 122 offices, all of them using Citrix VDI and NetApp services hosted on HP blade servers at the company’s own data centres.

Crucial to this deployment is the roll-out of high speed fibre to every Reed office, with a second fibre circuit or alternative technology providing backup. This kind of belt and braces thinking is typical of Whetstone’s pragmatic approach to resilience and his wish to have infrastructure ‘that’s ready for anything’ the business might demand in the future.

“I’m very aware that with fibre Ethernet to every office we’re building for the future as much as the present. We don’t ever want bandwidth to be a bottleneck for future applications, whatever they are,” he says.

Gamma has kept its promises and has delivered on time. Naturally there have been a few anticipated ‘ups and downs’ as Whetstone calls them but all have been resolved quickly and effectively. “I’m realistic. I know the world isn’t perfect. But thanks to transparent and open conversation with Gamma we’ve always got there,” acknowledges Whetstone.


Having worked at the coal face of IT for 30 plus years Whetstone has some trenchant views on the future, beginning with networking. “First of all, I think fibre will get faster and faster. There’ll be new ways of lighting dark fibre. In five years’ time I can see one Terabyte connections becoming a reality. We’ll get to the point where we simply don’t think about bandwidth any more. It won’t be an issue. I think we’ll also have fibre to every building as the default. No more civils, no more waiting for installations. It’ll be there when you move in.

“Twenty years ago 64k was the norm. Gigabit fibre direct to the premises was unheard of and I would never have dreamt of the launch of broadband over copper.”

But what about the broader picture of IT as it applies to the recruitment industry. Does Whetstone ever envisage a time when methods of communication other than voice will take over as the primary channel for recruiters and candidates?

“I certainly believe there will be a place for video and social media. There is already some use of Skype, Facetime and WhatsApp but I think many are still wary of it. It’s still difficult to replace a good quality phone conversation as the primary means of holding a proper business conversation.”

And where does the cloud fit in?

Surely with business IT that is already fully virtualised, the cloud cannot be far behind? “We do already use some cloud services, Salesforce for example, and we are maintaining a watching brief on solutions like Azure and Amazon Web Services. But I’m a firm believer in cloud only where it’s the best option, not cloud first.”

In many ways Reed is a perfect example of how contemporary technology and services are enabling ground-breaking advances. It also underlines the value of high performance, high availability fibre networking as a foundation for business. Moreover, by dealing with Gamma it has a network infrastructure, free of legacy constraints, that can change and grow as the business evolves.