Boots awards BT contract for major network infrastructure overhaul across UK, Europe

Consumer pharmacy and health retail giant Boots, owned by Walgreens Boots Alliance, has contracted BT to overhaul its IT infrastructure in the UK and the rest of Europe as part of a wider digital transformation.

Erwin van Vroenhoven, vice president, global IT shared services tells Computerworld UK that the contract is necessary for the company’s “omni-channel” plans in Europe.

“We’re on this journey of becoming even better in omni-channel retailing, because we absolutely recognise that’s where the future lies,” van Vroenhoven says. “We don’t believe that only the website will do – we need to be really present in all channels, and you need to be seamless across all channels.”

Walgreens Boots Alliance is an American business that owns pharmacy chain Boots. The high-street retailer will soon be bringing in more ways for customers to interact with the brand online and in-store. And new voice and communications technologies for staff will also be introduced.

With that, van Vroenhoven says the company has “a lot more network requirements and a lot more bandwidth requirements – with that goes resilience. If you become dependent on digital tools in-store, you don’t want those things to be unavailable.”

BT will roll out a range of different network access technologies for Boots in the UK – with flagship shops getting dedicated fibre Ethernet services and copper-based networks.

The contract will power improved performance in internal systems, and shops will have a “future-ready” network to adapt to new technologies. It should also improve in-store processing time for pharmacy orders, stock replenishment and booking appointments.

Boots has more than 2,500 pharmacies in the UK. “With our very big estate, that resilience is not always easy from a cost perspective,” van Vroenhoven says. “It was really important to get to a higher level of resilience, especially for our bigger stores.”

The business was previously operating with a mish-mash of legacy systems – in data, in data centres, networking and other infrastructure. So the company was after a way to centralise network services in one place, in a way that was better for security and application control.

Walgreens Boots Alliance is also buying into a new product from BT – called BT Connect Intelligence IWAN. It’s a managed service that allows for automatic routing and optimisation of network traffic, and the intention is to provide more visibility on applications performance – essentially, more control.

And BT is also promoting its “cloud of clouds” concept, which amounts to bringing all cloud networks under an end-to-end managed network.

Rolling out new network infrastructure to all European territories plus its wholesale network is clearly a large contract and a big commitment. But van Vroenhoven tells Computerworld UK that he’s “very confident” Walgreens Boots Alliance will experience benefits in the short to long-term.

With services on offer like Wi-Fi in store and connected kiosks for developing photos, having a reliable amount of bandwidth is critical.

“There’s also more flexibility,” van Vroenhoven explains. “In the past it took a very long time to increase bandwidth to every store – now if you want to increase your capacity that isn’t a very long process.”

BT won the contract for its “reliability” and for its “innovations” – like BT Connect Intelligence IWAN.

“We ran a process with a number of people,” van Vroenhoven explains. “I think there’s a couple of things where BT came out on top – one was reliability. As a business we’re reliant on these services, especially across the store network and offering services to colleagues and customers – it becomes an inherent part of what you do.

“And the innovations that BT is bringing across networks like IWAN – where you can work through things differently or have a lot more application control – from an innovation perspective we felt BT absolutely played the right part.”

And the cash on the table wasn’t bad either: “From a value perspective, it was also a good deal,” says van Vroenhoven.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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