Mobility and security hardly go hand-in-hand. But not at the Essar Group. In fact, for this Indian, multinational conglomerate, security was the stepping stone to enterprise mobility and a vibrant BYOD environment.
What got the ball rolling was the group's need for secure Wi-Fi infrastructure for its senior management. From there the project snowballed into an all-inclusive mobility solution, which, today, allows its employees, its mobile workforce--and even its guests--to connect seamless to Essar using any device of their choice. The wireless solution, implemented in different phases, covers all of Essar's offices across the country and a few locations outside India. At all of its remote locations, even where mobile networks tend to be unreliable, employees are now able to connect seamlessly to Essar, securely and easily.
But the real twist was that, contrary to what many might think, all this was made possible not by a big, tier-1 solution provider, but by a small networking player from Vadodara, Meridian Infotech. For Meridian Infotech the project was a roller coaster ride.
The $27 billion (Rs 1,43,100 crore) Essar Group, with interests in steel, oil and gas, power, communications, shipping, and construction, among others, has about 75,000 employees spread across the globe and has a reputation of being a tech-savvy enterprise.
But a lack of Wi-Fi access for its VIP visitors and senior management blunted that reputation. Although Essar had already implemented WLAN across some of its offices, security concerns were always a spoiler standing in the way of a robust wireless network.
"We carried out an IT security assessment study, which was a wake-up call for us. The report pointed out a few pain points in our network, which drove us to hunt for a more robust and secure wireless infrastructure," says N. Jayantha Prabhu, group CTO, Essar Group.
One of the challenges the report highlighted was a lack of standardized, role-based access control. In addition, the IT team also knew that staffers who traveled frequently across offices struggled to get connectivity and that it was a problem provisioning proper guest access.
They decided to begin chipping away at the problem and started with ensuring that visiting VIPs had Internet connectivity. Essar called on a solution provider it had a long-standing relationship with, Meridian Infotech, and gave them the chance to do a live demo. It quickly became clear, says Devang Jasani, CEO, Meridian Infotech, that Essar's team wanted something more than a Wi-Fi infrastructure that could connect laptops. They wanted a network that could integrate various user devices, including BlackBerry smartphones, iPhones and tablets.
"That's when we realized that we needed to take a risk and invest to give the client a live demo of a true mobility experience," says Jasani. "We invested a huge amount in a wireless LAN controller and other required equipments from Cisco to set up the demo. It was a risk worth taking because Essar has always been a tech-savvy customer and has never said no to the right solution."
But little did Jasani realize that he had just crossed the first hurdle.
After that first meeting, matters moved quickly. Jasani's team was asked to set up the demo in 48 hours. But buying the equipment was only part of the challenge--Meridian also had a skills shortage.
"Essar's senior management told us they wanted a wireless experience for all the three devices they were using. That included a BlackBerry platform, which required specialized expertise in terms of integration. We could not find the right resource from our team or even from the Cisco team," says Jasani.
Running out of options, Jasani turned to Essar's internal team. And fortunately, one of them had the necessary expertise.
With his help, the demo took off successfully and Jasani got the green light for a wireless infrastructure project for four floors of Essar's iconic 21-storey building in Mahalaxmi in Mumbai.
That's when Essar took Meridian by surprise.
Jasani knew the corporate office project was only phase one of a potentially mammoth implementation. He knew Essar had plans to extend the benefits of the wireless project to all its employees across the country. What he didn't know was that Essar was also speaking to another competitor for the larger project.
"While the Cisco solution was tested, we also wanted to check out other options in the market, just to ensure that we are going ahead with the right solution," says Keyur Desai, AVP, IT infrastructure and projects group, at Essar.
Unperturbed, Jasani waited for Cisco's solution to prove itself. And it did.
"The competitor also gave us a demo," says Desai. "However, multiple factors went in favor of the Cisco solution. It had no compatibility issues as we already use Cisco devices at all our major locations. Plus, Cisco's solution was technically more feasible and suitable."
Today, mobility has become a reality at Essar. More importantly, security concerns, which triggered the whole implementation in the first place, is no more a nightmare for Essar, which got Cisco to carry out a security audit post the implementation.
User experience across all devices is now matchless, says Prabhu. Irrespective of what device a user brings, connectivity is seamless. "We would like the whole process to be smooth for everyone. And today, guests visiting our offices, even those in remote locations like a Mahan, Paradeep, or Dabuna, can securely access the Internet. The recent extension of this Wi-Fi infrastructure across the Essar Group's global locations has been a vital boost on the user experience front," he says.
For Meridian, the risk it took has paid off in more ways than one. By using the Essar project as a reference Meridian bagged five similar projects in the last year alone. And it probably won't stop there.