When Topaz Energy started on the acquisition trail in 2005 buying Shell Ireland and the local Stat oil petrol station sit was ahead-line grabbing business story. Behind the scenes, it was a complexmove with huge challenges, as a multinational company and an indigenous firm were restructured into a single, all-Ireland entity.
For Jim Gildea, IT operations manager of Topaz Energy,it was about turning myriad networks,wide-ranging technologies and a disparate collection of supplier relationships into a state-of-the-art infrastructure that could best serve the needs of a modern business with ambitions to grow.
‘‘At the beginning of 2007, I was looking at five different wide are a networks [Wans] and a collection of legacy systems that we had to bring together,’’Gildea said. ‘‘It was extremely difficult to manage because of the diversity of systems.”
Today,Topaz is the biggest service station and convenience retailer in the country, employing around1, 400 people carrying out 1.5million transactions a week across 300 sites.
Driving efficiencies into the organisation is a new IPinfrastructure that replaced the old networks to deliver a better customer experience.
‘‘We had an IT infrastructure that was completely fragmented,’’Gildea said. ‘‘Both Shell and Statoil had adequate networks,but they were in appropriate at their core to what the new business needed. In the case of Shell, it was a multi-national company with a network that fed into a European hub.
‘‘Even thee-mail system was tailored for the workforce of global company, rather than a national Irish firm.We simply couldn’t support what was there and went to tender for a new network.’
He knew what he wanted. Central to his plans was an MPLS network for voiceand data that could scale and support the businessfor the next five to ten years. With minimal in-house IT staff, a managed servicewas pivotal and the supplier would have to have the capability to connect diverse operations, ranging from 265K Baccessto smaller regional sites to a 30M Bline to the Clonskeagh head office in Dublin. Aninternational component was also important, with a SapERPimple mentation being rolled out from Hamburg. ‘‘Disaster recovery was also vital,’’said Gildea.
Jim Gildea, IT operations manager, Topaz Energy, Steve MacNicholas, managing director, Interfusion Networks, and Tom Rossiter, group IT manager, Topaz Energy.
‘‘You can’t underestimate the importance of the network and its role is getting deeper allthetime. We can’t afford for it to go down so we wanted ‘fail over’ in every single site. And we also wanted the ability to move our hub if we had to.’’
Dublin-based communications company Interfusion saw off bids from much larger telecommunication companies to win the contract.
Gildea said that the logic on going for a virtual network operator, rather than atelco that had its ownfibre,‘‘was a plus for us [because] Interfusion was a virtual operator. We have 109 company sites, operations in Northern Ireland and distribution terminals around the country.
‘‘The big players didn’t have the reach that we needed and it was expensive for them to service some of our more remote sites.’’
By doing deals with different providers and then wrapping it up in its NetHop product, Interfusionwas able to build a hybrid network with a different mix of access technologies on top of a next-generation core, all run out of the company’s network operations centre (Noc) in Dublin.
It is able to broker deals with network operators in the remotest corners of the island to get access at a price and performance that a national operator would struggle to achieve.
‘‘With Topaz there was a mismatch of connectivityand service providers that they needed to consolidate onto a single platform,’’said Steve MacNicholas, managing director of Interfusion.
‘‘We procure the highest available bandwidth at the best available price. We can use the foot print of 18 carriers and combine them together to give an access agnostic platform for the customer,who doesn’t know who the access provider is.
‘‘It becomes a wholly-owned Wan from Interfusion. We put it on our own IP infrastructure and deliver it as managed service through our Noc.’’
Interfusion was also able to establish relationships with overseas operators and extend the MPLS network to secure the Hamburg connection. With the underlying Wan in place, deploying Sap is just one example of what a converged IP network can deliver.
The company is using its cutting-edge infrastructure to provide a platform for voice over IP and unifiedcommunications.
While it is still early days, Gildea sees lots of opportunities to use the converged network to deliver training solutions, alongside the financials and supply chain applications.
Another application is more sector-specific, a telemetry application that keeps track on its fuel stocks across the island.
‘‘We have a gauging system at all our sites that lets us see stock levels so we can work out what needs to be delivered,’’ said Gildea.‘‘It was a manual process that is now completely automated.’’