"Not only have we become a leaner, more efficient organisation but we have also realised a huge saving against previous running costs. Fujitsu’s input into the development and design of Horizon Next Generation Application played a key role in that"
Steve Beddoe Senior IT Services Manager, Post Office
The Post Office has been at the heart of UK cities, towns and villages for hundreds of years, providing services ranging from travel insurance to vehicle tax, passports to postage, and driving licences to life insurance. It has 11,329 branches across the country, meaning that 93% of the UK population live within one mile of a Post Office, making it the UK’s largest retail network. The Post Office is also the biggest cash handler in the country with more than £90 billion passing through its network each year
At the heart of the Post Office’s technology infrastructure sits Horizon – an application that knits together the 29,835 counter ePOS points across its 11,329 branches. Originally developed and deployed with the help of Fujitsu in 2000, it was in need of a refresh in order to control costs and add new functionality.
“We needed to revamp Horizon because we have a complex business selling over 200 products and services but there was no standardised menu that would allow items to be bundled together,” explains Steve Beddoe, Senior IT Services Manager, Post Office. “We can’t expect our staff to remember 200 different variations so we looked to introduce a more flexible system that would simplify operations and make introducing new products easier.”
The Post Office also wanted to reduce ongoing support and maintenance costs however the budget simply didn’t exist to undertake a full technology refresh. Putting a new PC at each of the 29,835 counter positions was not an option.
“We decided that we could achieve 95% of the work by updating back office functions in the data centre and upgrading the router technology in each branch,” adds Beddoe. “We also wanted to change to a real-time web-based environment rather than transferring transactions in batches overnight as was the traditional method.”
As Fujitsu had been the partner for the original application development and deployment of Horizon, it made perfect sense to team up again for the next generation project: “Fujitsu has worked with us for a long time and has a deep knowledge of our applications and infrastructure – they really understood the constraints we were facing and that made them ideally placed to help us deliver.”
Together Fujitsu and the Post Office planned and designed the new Horizon Next Generation application in line with the overall IT road map for the organisation. As Horizon is the largest and most critical component of the overall architecture, extensive pilots took place before an accelerated deployment phase was introduced.
The primary changes included a replacement counter application suite that removes the need for distributed data to move to a managed data centre; the establishment of a centrally managed database solution to process around 2.7 billion transactions per year and enhanced web-based services to enable internet and peer-to-peer connectivity to a number of Government and third party agencies. A new data centre, based on Fujitsu blade servers, was established in Ireland to support the new application.
“Once we had the design right and had undertaken successful pilots, the deployment took six months during which time we were upgrading 200 terminals with the new application every day,” continues Beddoe. “We had to get it right first time so the planning phase was critical. Every branch is a different size and shape which presented challenges with cabling etc. for the Fujitsu engineers but our detailed planning enabled the successful execution.”
Since the initial release of Horizon Online™, there have been subsequent further releases that have continued to utilise Fujitsu’s Global Application Support and Development capability in India.
The design principles of the solution have enabled the new application to integrate with Post Office’s other internal and external business critical applications. These include SAP, Management Information Systems and Web based services available through the counter.
Each branch is now connected to the data centre in real-time whereas previously transactions would be transferred in batches overnight. This has enabled better communication and faster responses to other agencies.
In the past we had struggled to get information processed quickly enough. When we are dealing with car tax, driving licences or passports, for example, getting the files to the DVLA or Passport Agency has to be done quickly as there are deadlines involved,” says Beddoe. “Now this information is available instantly, making us more responsive and reliable. It is also presented to staff in a standardised format making the sale of our complex products much simpler.”
It has also reduced support costs dramatically. By moving to a real-time web-based service, support and maintenance costs have reduced by 50% – or £30m.
At the same time, migrating the solution from an Active Active data centre solution to an Active Passive configuration improved the Test QA compatibility and provided efficiencies in application development and operating costs and moving to a single centralised data centre is bringing savings of £2m per year. The new application is also remarkably stable with guaranteed service levels of 99.8%. This helps ensure that critical services are available around the clock.
In order to meet cost reduction objectives Fujitsu also moved aspects of application support and development to Fujitsu’s Offshore application facilities in India.
“Our primary objective was to upgrade Horizon to take advantage of web technologies to make us more productive, reliable and responsive and we also delivered more than expected cost savings,” comments Beddoe.
In addition, the revised Graphical Interface of the application conforms to standard retail formats and improves the logic so that branch staff can easily navigate around the 200 plus products and services that the Post Office offers.
“Not only have we become a leaner, more efficient organisation but we have also realised huge saving against previous running costs. Fujitsu’s input into the development and design of Horizon Next Generation played a key role in that.”
Because of the new centralised approach, the Horizon Next Generation application also integrates easily with other business-critical services. The Post Office’s SAP application is hosted in the same data centre meaning accounts can be processed instantly. The software also integrates with a Sales Force solution, a reference data system that allows flexible and frequent update of product, prices, and exchange rates and the Credence Management Information system. This provides a seamless, single point of contact for all critical IT points in the architecture.
Horizon Next Generation has transformed how we do business, making us a more effective organisation and that is in no small part thanks to Fujitsu. It has also provided us with a stable foundation on which we can build new applications and services as the business continues to evolve.”
Fujitsu is the leading Japanese information and communication technology (ICT) company offering a full range of technology products, solutions and services. Over 170,000 Fujitsu people support customers in more than 100 countries. We use our experience and the power of ICT to shape the future of society with our customers. For more information, please see http://www.fujitsu.com
Download the full Post Office Apps Case study (286 KB/A4, 2 pages)
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