How Specsavers is setting its sights on global IT

Specsavers' European IT director Karl de Bruijn on Google Apps, open source and mobile working

...the iPad or Android tablet devices, making deployment reasonably straightforward.

The company has a distributed workforce of about 26,000 people across its branches and manufacturing facilities, many of whom are interested in using personal iPads and Android tablet devices to access their work applications.

"I think the Google strategy helps us allow [employees] to use their own equipment to access key email or documents or working environments without being too rigid on a hardware strategy for mobile workers. It gives lots more flexibility and becomes hardware-independent and people can use their preferred devices to be productive when they are mobile."

De Bruijn also feels this approach could boost security for the businesses: "We've always had the problem of people being able to download information and data onto items like USB sticks and CDs. Now with this type of mobile working, the Google environment, it's all going to be stored up in the cloud so as that device goes off, access to that information is lost," he said.

Specsavers is already allowing head-office staff to use their personal iPads and Android devices to do their work but has also bought and supplied iPads to employees who tend to be more mobile rather than located in a fixed office.

Any data held on these kinds of devices is also unlikely to get into the wrong hands as the information held on the devices can be remotely wiped.

De Bruijn acknowledged that the browser-based approach creates a different set of security challenges and so the company is working to create strong policies on which data goes into the Google environment and which stays in the company's own infrastructure.

Open source and Oracle

Other projects taking up de Bruijn's time include the rollout of new front-end systems for the company's retail and manufacturing operations, respectively called Specsavers in a Box and Lab in a Box.

Both these applications have been developed inhouse using open-source technology - including Apache Tomcat, Java, Pentaho and Red Hat - and will be rolled out in 2011.

"We have historically been mostly open source. So we do quite a bit of internal innovation looking at the open-source market and we use a lot of those technologies in our retail and Lab in a Box products."

Also on the agenda are the global implementations of an Oracle ERP system and a warehousing management system from Red Prairie.

The first deployment of these two platforms will take place this year. One of the major challenges of this work is to...

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