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Data Room Upgrade

07 July 2007

Norwich Union embarked on a massive programme to upgrade its IT infrastructure across 55 sites, providing it with improved IT services nationwide. Ross Coker explains how the project was carefully planned and coordinated so that it could be both effective and fast-track.

NORWICH UNION'S IT DEPARTMENT IS RESPONSIBLE for all of the computer equipment throughout the company's entire office real estate. Each site has a single or number of rooms (ITEC suites) where the servers and associated IT equipment are housed. Each also has various degrees of criticality to the business and, therefore, various sites are grouped together in bands based on a minimum level of resilience and support services required.

Norwich Union commissioned a project in 2006 to determine the scope of works needed for each of the 120 rooms to meet the required standard. This analysis included ensuring protection against loss of supply and equipment failure due to temperature, flood or fire. Upgrades to electrical distribution, air conditioning, UPS and lighting needs as well as water and smoke detection were also key considerations. Fit-out contractor, Dovehouse Interiors, and, Maleon, were selected for this ambitious project. A number of M&E sub-contractors were employed for different regions. Norwich Union's FM department was responsible for overseeing the project and working with the team to ensure that all strategic objectives were met.

The team embraced the brief and embarked on a process to provide Norwich Union with exactly the level of detail and service they required. This was not a project on which to be 'creative', rather practical, efficient and tested solutions had to be delivered methodically. Delivering precisely what was required and not wasting resources in presenting alternative options was critical to timely and cost efficient delivery.

The roll-out was carefully planned over eight months to anticipate and resolve any issues relating to logistics, and existing sub-tenants and tenants. Some properties needed to remain operational for part of the programme and others had to be vacated. This dedication of time to the early stages of the project meant that occupiers of the buildings were disrupted as little as possible and efficiencies could be achieved to allow for a smooth delivery.

As part of the intensive planning work, the team first had to undertake a survey of all sites included within the project brief and determine the scope of work required to bring them up to standard. This was critical to planning and timing.

Performance level designs were developed including drawings and specifications for each of the 120 ITEC rooms throughout the UK. The cost of the project complete with builders works, associated prelims, fees and hardware had to be established and reviewed against the detailed designs to ensure that Norwich Union's budget and brief could be simultaneously met.

The work undertaken was dependant on the site criticality but, at its most resilient, included:

....Providing dedicated electrical supplies to IT rooms and associated alterations to main switchgear

....Providing dedicated A/C to rooms where required

....Providing UPS cover to essential items of computer equipment

....Installing fire detection where required

....Installing gaseous fire suppression systems where required

....Delivering additional containment to IT cabling

....Constructing new partitioning to create dedicated IT rooms

....Installing links to local BMS to allow room status to be reported to central monitoring at Norwich Union

....Providing additional security in the form of electronic access control and/or mechanical locks where required

....Providing leak detection in those rooms where possible water ingress could cause loss of service

....Providing additional lighting and emergency lighting in required areas.

A large-scale roll out such as this has its challenges and the geographical spread of the various sites, from Inverness to Brighton, meant that efficient solutions were central to success. A key solution was to divide all the sites into two groups based on their location and give responsibility to a manager for each one. One site manager was allocated to sites north of the Midlands and another was responsible for areas further south. Logistically, this proved highly successful and enabled sufficient attention to be paid to the progress of works on site.

In addition, the roll-out was also staggered to make management easier. At the peak of the project, only 20 people were working on site at any one time. All of the building services and construction works were completed within the project programme and budget targets and, after four months, every site was operational with only minor works required at some.

Communication and collaboration were central to the project. Ongoing liaison between the site managers and the engineers was critical to the programme and the facilities manager at Norwich Union was kept abreast of progress as well as any issues that arose. Solutions were developed quickly and proactively to address and counter any problems.

The result of this commitment to teamwork was the development of an excellent working relationship founded on trust. Geographical distance was never an issue. In fact, the client's confidence in the team was so strong that Norwich Union never once felt the need to visit a site to oversee work. This is highly unusual.

The roll-out project has delivered key benefits for the FM team at Norwich Union, which is formed of a series of managers for specific regions. Norwich Union analysed the degree of criticality of each data room for its business and graded them based on the level of resilience required. This categorisation process has armed the FM with the comprehensive information they need. If a question is asked about a particular site, the FM knows instantly its electrical capacity, electrical load, how it is cooled, what fire suppression it has and its level of security.

The services and support services have also been standardised providing a baseline for what is housed and required at each site. Although a building may be small and seemingly insignificant, its effective operation may be critical to the business. There is a huge variation in the type and sizes of buildings used by Norwich Union across the country so this is invaluable data.

Finally, and from an overall perspective, the managers of property at Norwich Union now have an intimate understanding of their portfolio. They can manage their facilities more efficiently and, importantly, more effectively. The FM team were also a key part of the chain in the assessment of works required as part of the roll-out and in its delivery. The process was carried out though close liaison with the central IT team at Norwich Union as well as the FM responsible for each region. They were kept updated and informed, and became invaluable in providing information about the peculiarities of any buildings.

....Ross Coker is Director at Dovehouse Interiors

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