Competing effectively in a digital economy

When the UK arm of Berendsen, Europe’s leading textile services business, met with the network services vendor Gamma, it was to discuss telephony only. But things, as they say, quickly moved on to bigger things – Berendsen’s requirement for a nationwide managed network service.

Gamma was soon invited back, this time to take part in a four-way competitive pitch for the project. And, following a searching and rigorous evaluation of the bids, Gamma emerged the winner.

“We really liked Gamma’s honesty, openness and candour during our meetings with them. It was refreshing. They were also more cost effective, came up with a better design and proposed better hardware,” says Berendsen’s head of service delivery Antony Pugh. “The others didn’t seem to grasp the concept of what a core network was, or our requirement for real resilience. Without a working network, we don’t run as a company. It’s that simple.

“Yes, it was a big deal for us but we were confident that Gamma could deliver, and a year down the line they have lived up to their promises.”

Critical network

In the UK, its data and voice network is critical with the three Rs – reliability, resilience and redundancy – of utmost importance.

“We have 100 sites in this country and 95% of our computing is with thin clients connecting back to virtualised services at our head office in Basingstoke.

“The network is everything and our dependency on resiliency and reliability is huge,” adds Pugh. “Gamma understands how important it is to have the right technology at the heart of the network and it appreciates the difference between simple dual circuits and true triangulation.

“We took a decision to deploy fibre wherever possible and this will give us more reliability and the capacity to add new services, beef up data transfers and give us the very best voice quality.” It is perhaps also significant that the role of IT within Berendsen is changing subtly as the company moves forward with a customer-focused strategy for excellence and growth. IT is working more closely than ever before with the rest of the business and is being increasingly viewed as an enabler for improvement, not just a means to get the job done.

One example would be the way the department, working with Gamma, has markedly reduced latency and the number of network hops that virtualised computing traffic has to negotiate. The result is faster response times which have a knockon positive effect on customer service and perception.

Berendsen’s customers also can’t have failed to notice the increased uptime made possible by the Gamma solution. Several of them interact directly with Berendsen systems to query stockholdings, order extra linen or update collections. They too will have witnessed the improvements.

Berendsen is a £1Bn+ international group that manages the textile, hygiene and safety needs of 150,000 customers in 16 countries across Europe. It services businesses in the areas of workwear, facilities, hospitality and healthcare with end users in places as diverse as hospitals and care homes through to high tech cleanrooms and up-market hotels.

With Gamma there’s always a deeper explanation, with some added value on top. It helps us better understand.

Added value

“Previously we’d waited more than a year to have a particular new circuit installed. Once Gamma was on the case they’d worked out with the installation engineer how to find a new route that avoided wayleave issues and the line was in within eight weeks,” acknowledges Pugh.

He also finds Gamma’s responses to queries and support requests better. “With some providers, we’d just get a standard cut-and-paste response. With Gamma there’s always a deeper explanation with some added value on top. It helps us better understand what’s going on.” A lot of this, says Pugh, is down to Gamma’s use of customer advocates as members of its front-line team providing a single point of contact for sales, support and management. Pugh, quite clearly not one to be taken in by vendor jargon, is supportive. “It would be wrong to think of Gamma customer advocates as glorified account managers. We don’t just get a once a month sales call or meeting. We have a continuous two-way dialogue and our advocate is much more proactive. There’s a higher degree of professionalism, no tiptoeing around issues. An openness between vendor and customer that’s often lacking in this business.”

Pugh and his team also likes the fact that Gamma, as an independent, is strongly motivated to manage effectively third-party last mile circuit providers. This is most visible when it comes to connecting new or moved offices, or upgrading existing lines.

Connectivity choice

While the initial meeting with Gamma was to discuss voice, both voice and data elements of the project have progressed hand in hand. From a network based largely on DSL, Berendsen has now moved up to fibre and EFM in the main. Gamma very carefully crafted a matrix of all the available connectivity options at each site, allowing Berendsen to choose based on bandwidth, resilience and dependability. “The migration to Gamma has been faultless.

I can honestly say that I’ve not had a smoother migration,” says Pugh. “It has all been set up and configured brilliantly and we’re getting much better reliability.” Most of Berendsen’s key sites are now also using Gamma SIP telephony. As well as delivering much improved flexibility, freedom of configuration and uptime, the voice platform has also brought significant cost savings. Pugh will not be drawn on actual numbers but talks of tens of thousands of pounds a year.


Optimising network usage

But Pugh is keen to emphasise the more consultative role the tool plays in pointing up where improvements might need to be made to working practices or processes in order to optimise network usage. For example, it was quick to identify how laptops performing timed backups or heavy internet use were causing spikes that impacted other users. It is also helping guide changes to quality of service configurations to limit some nonpriority traffic while optimising more critical traffic.

Pugh also plans to implement application monitoring, drilling down into how particular applications need and use IT resources. “We aim to eliminate the theorising about how apps are behaving and get access to actual data instead. In turn that will let us meet the expectations and improve the perceptions of the business and that’s good for everybody,” he says.

Another area where the tool is proving itself is in guiding Berendsen’s future thinking on its IT and networking. “We are constantly thinking three and six months ahead as things in the business are moving at a faster pace,” says Pugh. “We want to be ready for the future.”

Network monitoring

Another key aspect of the Gamma network is the company’s use of its strategic partner Highlight’s hosted network monitoring and management service.

Gamma chose the Highlight solution as the best option for both its customers and its own network operations. It is integrated into Gamma’s automated ticketing system, allowing customers and Gamma support staff to work more closely.

“It’s a great addition and it gives us a massive amount of visibility.” says Pugh. “It has all been perfectly set up and we can truly see how much use we’re making of all our lines, what might need upgrading, where misuse is happening and where there are issues that need to be fixed.

“Things are faster, more stable and we can see which lines are approaching 90% or 100% usage. It’s great to able to see detail like that.”


First impressions

In signing with Gamma, Berendsen has underscored the value of first impressions. The company’s openness and honesty during that first meeting got it the chance to bid for, and ultimately win Berendsen’s networking business.

“Gamma has always been very frank and open in all its dealings with us, right from the start. In the IT industry that seems to be an increasingly rare quality these days,” observes Pugh.

“Communications with Gamma are always good, their project managers are some of the best I’ve worked with, and any issues are always resolved correctly and very quickly. It’s all made our whole experience with them a positive one.”

The Berendsen story is another example where digital technology – in this case the adoption of fibre-based high speed network services and SIP telephony – is helping to drive business and process improvement.

The company is part way through a five-year strategic growth plan that has at its heart customer focus, operational excellence, people effectiveness and efficient use of capital. Digital technology, overseen and managed by the company’s IT department, is the common thread that brings all these initiatives together and that will help the business deliver against its objectives.

Berendsen is one of several large companies with which Gamma is working to help them achieve similar goals. You can read about some of the others in the pages of Unify and on our web site –

Digital transformation for business improvement