A Decade of Performance, A Foundation for Transformation

Matt McCloskey, Sales and Marketing Director, and Shane Haslem, Head of Network Enabled Design & Delivery, talks about eir Business NI’s history of working with the public sector in Northern Ireland and how this has shaped its role today. The company is not only creating foundations that are transforming the way the public and private sector work, but is contributing in more ways than one to the wider local economy.

Over the past decade eir Business NI has become a key player in driving the economy in Northern Ireland. Entering the market in 2007 to deliver a £70m contract for the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the company hit the ground running, building a next-generation province-wide network; setting up its Belfast-based Network Operations Centre; and establishing a strong team of highly-skilled engineers from the get-go. With the objective of upgrading the NI Civil Service network connecting all 11 government departments and helping transform its government services, the team quickly rose to the challenge.
“In less than 2 years, core rollout of Network NI was complete, connecting 275 Central Government sites into one managed network and providing the foundation for public sector reform including Account NI, eHR Connect, Records NI and NI Direct. Before we built Network NI, they were dealing with the complexity of multiple networks for each governmental department. In some cases, even shared buildings had separate connections for each department using the building. And each department had its own independent systems for finance, HR, records management and so on. Two years later and they were able to adopt a shared services approach with applications sitting on Network NI and centrally accessible by all departments,” explains Haslem.
Over the years that followed, Network NI continued to roll out across the public sector to over 400 sites and more than 24,000 users, delivering WAN, Internet, IP telephony, WiFi, Video Conferencing and Unified Communications and serving an extended list of Government departments and agencies including the Department of Justice, Environment Agency and Education & Skills Authority.

Building a reliable platform for the wider public sector
Network NI has been widely hailed as game changing for the public sector in Northern Ireland. The network acts as a foundation on which the Northern Ireland Government has been able to layer additional functions and advanced technology in addition to savings of £12 million on network service costs.
“Because the network we’ve delivered is a robust, highly-secure infrastructure, one that was purpose-built for the Government, it ensures that they can embrace innovation and move forward with confidence in this increasingly connected world,” adds McCloskey.
Following on from the success of Network NI, eir Business NI developed partnerships with other public sector organisations and its underpinning solutions are enabling communications that most Northern Ireland citizens interact with every day – not just with central departments but with schools (c2K), libraries (Libraries NI), third-level institutes (Belfast Met & Ulster University) and local councils across Northern Ireland. Key among public sector demands has been a reliable, robust, high-performing network that facilitates the adoption of technologies such as IP and video.
To deliver on these demands, the company continued to grow its local workforce, expand its base of highly-skilled engineers to over 25, and build the largest team of CCIE-certified engineers in Northern Ireland. It invested over £18m to roll out its wholly-owned core-IP next generation MPLS network to 24 towns across Northern Ireland. The company continues to assess the demands of its public sector clients to ensure that the portfolio of offerings not only meets but pre-empts their expectations.
“We’re increasingly seeing public sector organisations really grasping where the future is going. And they understand that they need a future-proofed highly-secure communications infrastructure to bring them there,” says McCloskey. “Over the past 10 years we’ve honed our network offerings to meet the challenges these organisations are facing. Our network designers and engineers have refined their expertise and have a decade’s worth of knowledge behind them, coupled with a commitment to help organisations transform the way they work. They use their skills to build tailored solutions for each client, as every client is unique.”

eir Business NI: building connections in the private sector
It is the company’s emphasis on a partnership approach – truly understanding their clients’ business challenges and demands, and offering their highly-skilled people as a service offering – that has allowed organisations across the private sector to also benefit from what they have to offer. “Our Service Operations Centre in Belfast, consisting of a network operating centre and service organisation, was designed specifically to meet the particular requirements of Network NI. However, it soon became clear that the model was transferrable to other organisations who were looking to stay ahead of their game,” comments Shane Haslem, Head of Network Enabled Design and Delivery. “In 2009, we built a second network, an Enterprise MPLS network, so that we could bring our services to the private sector. The network was designed to replicate the dedicated Government network, suitable for carrying MPLS and multi-gigabit traffic and offering high quality voice, data and video network services also supported by our Service Operations Centre.”
For any organisation in today’s digital world, whether in the public or private sector, a reliable network is a universal requirement. We take our role as a builder of networks very seriously and we take it a step further. We know how much relies on steady, consistent access. And so, we don’t just build networks, we don’t just design solutions, we manage them to ensure they are always running at peak performance. We proactively monitor our customers’ networks and pride ourselves in the fact that 4 in every 5 of our service desk calls are outbound. That’s not your typical service desk.
Our business in Northern Ireland was formed on one very central belief that we continue to follow today: to offer a network like no other, a peerless offering rivalled by none. And that shines through in all of our client engagements,” says Haslem.
Over recent years eir Business NI has truly built up an impressive portfolio of private sector customers. Its client base covers organisations across a wide range of sectors: hospitality, manufacturing, retail, agrifood, energy and professional services, all with one thing in common – the need for a network that supports their growth and their ability to serve their customers but one that doesn’t distract resources from their core business.

eir Business NI: a key player in the local economy
“We have also developed strong partnerships with local IT services companies: Version1, Zenith, EOS, Swiftsoft and Capita. We bring our expert team and strong network to the table and help our partners to make their services more relevant to their customers. Our goal is to make sure all businesses in Northern Ireland, whatever size or sector, can avail of first class ICT solutions and can take full advantage of all the latest technologies,” says McCloskey.
eir Business NI takes its role as a major telecoms provider in Northern Ireland very seriously. But according to McCloskey, it’s more than that. It has a vested interest in the local economy and is proud to be a part of the Northern Ireland business landscape.
“We’re finding the best people to work at eir Business NI right here in Northern Ireland. Our people are at the heart of what we do. Retaining our highly skilled engineering staff and helping them to progress their careers is one of our top priorities and is the main goal of our Grow Your Own approach to the development of ICT skills. We provide a way for young people to progress from our service desk, to our Network Operations Centre, to solution delivery and finally to network design whilst achieving their engineering training & accreditations along the way,” explains McCloskey.
eir Business NI is also active with local charities. According to McCloskey, it proactively supports non-profit organisations in areas such as special needs, homelessness, children in need, education and mental health. Fundraising is just a small part of its contribution; staff are also encouraged to go out into the community, engage with local people and use their expertise to help charities and other non-profit organisations.

Where will the next 10 years take you?
“The working landscape has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Our strength lies in our ability to recognise what’s coming down the line, enhance our services and design tailored solutions to meet these new developments,” explains McCloskey. “Looking back at the past ten years, many organisations had much the same goals as they do today: to be ahead of their game. They may not have called it digital transformation but they had ambitions to embrace technology to connect with customers; to transform their business processes; and to empower their workforce.
I don’t expect those goals will change but the speed at which organisations can react, adapt, innovate and respond to these demands will be more important than ever before. The transformation of IT from a supporting to leading role will be key. And we’re committing as ever to helping organisations across Northern Ireland deliver on this, to allow IT departments do their job of driving business forward whilst we take away the pain-points that often hold them back.”
Through regular meetings with CIOs from Northern Irish businesses (CIO Club) eir Business NI is able to learn directly from its customers and hear the challenges they’re facing. Armed with this first-hand knowledge Matt, Shane and the team at eir Business NI are able to continually evolve to meet customer demands.
“We know that our clients are looking to implement technologies like the internet of everything. They want to take steps into the connected workplace and attract and retain highly skilled Millennials. It’s a different world out there now and our network services and complementary solutions are helping customers to navigate that world. As more and more critical applications get added to the network the emphasis is firmly on performance, reliability and security. Our customers are more reliant than ever on their network. Mission critical applications sit on the network, massive amounts of secure data travels over it, company communications rely on it, remote workers need secure access to it, websites depend on it. There’s no question, the network is at the heart of this new world, and eir Business NI is right there with its finger on the pulse.”