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BT-managed telepresence at key worldwide locations fuels global expansion for SASOL
Global expansion’s a great goal to have but, as any multinational will tell you, the problem is staying in touch across territories and time zones. Solving it is essential. But asking people to travel thousands of miles a month is not the answer. Bad for them, bad for the planet, and bad for the bottom line, as Alec Joannou, the SASOL Group CIO, well knows.
SASOL has adopted telepresence for collaboration between far-flung executives in Europe, North America and Africa. Running over the BT IP Connect global network it also enables federation with customers and suppliers. The solution’s earned Alec’s team a special recognition award from the CEO for bringing the company’s One SASOL philosophy and vision vibrantly to life.
We’ve been able to break down geographic boundaries and become a single global community.”
- Alec Joannou, Group CIO SASOL
Video conferencing energises SASOL global expansion02:04
SASOL occupies a fascinating niche in the worldwide energy industry. This video sees Alex Joannou, CIO, telling how a BT telepresence video conferencing network reaches places like South Africa, Calgary, Houston, Hamburg and Milan, helping SASOL achieve sustainable global expansion.
Headquartered in Johannesburg, SASOL is an international integrated energy and chemical company. With 34,000 employees, it develops and commercialises technologies, and builds and operates world-scale facilities to produce a range of product streams, including liquid fuels, high-value chemicals and low-carbon electricity.
“Our aspiration is to become truly global, and we needed a telecoms partner to support us in that ambition,” says Alec Joannou, the SASOL CIO. “We chose BT because it has a footprint in all of the 37 countries in which we operate.” But the company’s mission of rapid worldwide expansion meant South Africa-based board members and senior managers were travelling thousands of kilometres every month to visit distant operations, suppliers, and key clients.
Now, under a five-year managed services contract, a BT global infrastructure links SASOL offices in Houston, Hamburg, London, and Calgary along with seven sites in South Africa in Johannesburg, Secunda and Sasolburg.
Joannou explains: “We depend on BT to provide us with fast, highly-available connectivity throughout the world. For example, we have huge operations in Mozambique, including offshore activities. BT came to the party by helping us connect those locations to our Johannesburg headquarters. We have an SLA to try and keep it at full availability and we’ve done incredibly well. It’s been at least 99.99 per cent and that’s the kind of uptime we expect.”
Also included in the BT managed services contract are BT One for IP Telephony, BT Assure network security service – including threat monitoring and managed firewalls – BT MeetMe audio conferencing, and Active Directory.
“Building new operations in faraway locations meant collaboration was really key. Telepresence was the big game changer for SASOL,” says Joannou.
SASOL started with the rollout of two telepresence units: one in Secunda, South Africa, and the other at its Rosebank headquarters in Johannesburg. Further expansion was dependent upon reaching a target of achieving 80 per cent utilisation of those facilities. “Take-up in the first month wasn’t great,” says Joannou, “because people thought it was traditional video conferencing.” So an open day was held during which 200 people sampled the telepresence experience. The second month saw 70 per cent utilisation, while the 80 per cent target was hit by the third month.
Today, as a BT-managed service, SASOL has eleven units across South Africa, Houston, Hamburg, London, and Calgary. Using the Cisco MSE8000 platform – the first such media services engine deployment on the African continent – BT installed a combination of TX9000 six-seat and TX9200 18-seat telepresence suites. “Because Hamburg, and especially Houston, are on different time zones, the South African suites are now seeing well over 100 per cent utilisation compared to a standard working day,” says Joannou.
The prime objective of the SASOL telepresence units is to save on travel time and costs. So, where executives are planning to travel to Houston or Hamburg, those meetings are prioritised and the use of telepresence is encouraged. The SASOL corporate travel office supplied the SASOL telepresence management team with information on planned long distance travel. The prospective travellers were then asked to determine whether their planned travel was essential.
“We asked if they knew that we have a facility called telepresence, which brings the world together,” says Joannou. “We then invited them to attend a telepresence experience. We reduced international travel exponentially by going through that kind of initiative.”
The company’s global expansion means that for the first time it has board members that are not South African-based. Says Joannou: “Board members based in South Africa, Hamburg and Houston can now take part in three-way telepresence-enabled global executive committee meetings rather than travelling thousands of miles.”
Use of the BT global video exchange (GVE) bridge means SASOL can also use telepresence with key customers and suppliers. For example, the SASOL CEO used to travel frequently to Cincinnati to see the CEO at a major consumer goods client. Today, however, he sets an example by using the Rosebank telepresence suite, which employs the BT GVE to interconnect the two companies’ collaboration systems.
Similarly, major IT service companies and consultants are key suppliers to SASOL and they too have telepresence facilities hooked up to the SASOL system. “We’ve collaborated with other vendors on three or four occasions to discuss new solutions,” says Joannou. “Previously, that would have needed a flight for several people. So, suddenly we’ve got global reach not only within SASOL but also with our key partners too.”
In the first six months, SASOL calculated travel savings of more than a million kilometres and forty metric tonnes of carbon emissions. Joannou concludes: “With the international units deployed, those numbers will grow exponentially due to global travel savings. I see BT as a key partner, sharing the risk and reward, and putting people on the ground in each of the regions we play in.”
- BT IP Connect global
- BT Assure Managed Firewall
- BT Assure Threat Monitoring
- BT One Collaborate audio – featuring BT MeetMe
- BT One Collaborate video – featuring Cisco TelePresence