Recruitment firm Hudson has rolled out a virtual desktop environment in Australia and New Zealand to standardise its operating environment and break expensive hardware refresh patterns.
Asia Pacific chief information officer Mark Leigh told iTnews the system - which was two years in the making - would also be rolled out to Singapore and Hong Kong this year and to China in 2013.
Hudson has approximately 700 staff in Australia and New Zealand.
The environment uses Citrix technology and thin client hardware. It supports access to the Hudson standard operating environment (SOE) that includes Microsoft Office and an in-house front-end recruitment database.
"It's a very generic desktop environment," Leigh said.
"We're probably in some ways a bit fortunate in that we don't have a complex banking environment or something like that that we need to build into this virtual environment.
"We have an environment that scales well, that suits 90 percent of our employees and therefore this [virtual desktop] solution made sense for us."
Leigh said that porting Microsoft software into the virtual environment had been relatively straightforward but virtualising Hudson's Oracle and PeopleSoft-based finance systems was more challenging.
"What has been an issue is that we have a reasonably old version of Oracle [for] our general ledger that proved challenging to virtualise," he said.
"We haven't successfully virtualised it yet.
"We have two options right now. One is to just maintain [the existing setup] for the finance people who need to use it. That's certainly going to be our short-term solution.
"In the medium term, clearly we're on an older version of Oracle and as a company we're looking to upgrade that. We'll eventually get that upgraded and I'm sure it will be much easier to virtualise."
By and large, Leigh said that going down the desktop virtualisation path had enabled Hudson to standardise its operating environment.
"Before [desktop virtualisation] we would have liked to have thought we had [an SOE] but the reality was there was a lot of challenges in managing [our environment]," he said.
Hudson has an older virtual desktop environment running in its European offices. Leigh said the new ANZ model could potentially be deployed worldwide.
Hudson saw desktop virtualisation as a way to escape the hardware refresh cycle while also achieving other strategic visions for IT.
Leigh said the project started two years ago as Hudson evaluated "what we were going to do with our ageing desktop environment".
"We had, like many companies, a standard refresh policy," he said.
"We've held onto our desktops as long as we could. We [also] had a range of old clunky laptops running around the organisation that no one particularly liked anymore.
"Do we just go around this merry-go-round of buying more PCs, putting them on desks for another three to four years and then going through this again?
"Or do we try and achieve some of our other objectives around business continuity, mobility and just a general better working experience for people at the same time?
"That's really when we started evaluating the concepts of virtual desktop."
In addition to using thin client hardware in the office, Hudson has revised how it provides laptops to employees.
Leigh said the company had generally seen demand for company-supplied laptops drop in recent years as "most people have a PC at home".
Shifting to a virtual desktop environment exacerbated the trend.
"As people come onto this solution we're getting much less demand and requests for laptops," Leigh said.
"We even moved to the concept of having pooled laptops, so we're buying a couple per office that we leave at reception and people can borrow them when they travel and need to go visit a client or when they're doing a presentation.
"They're there to borrow but because it's a virtual desktop you don't need to own it anymore. That has been a big win for us."
Eyes for SaaS
Virtualisation did not preclude Hudson from evaluating future moves to use software-as-a-service.
Leigh said that the company is a Salesforce.com user and also has the hosted Exchange components of Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) deployed in its Asian operations.
"The SaaS model is still very attractive to us," he said.
"We're looking to implement a new SaaS help desk solution this year. We'll [also] look at putting the whole of Asia Pacific onto BPOS [hosted Exchange] in 2012."
BPOS is now sold under Microsoft's Office365 banner.
Read on for how Leigh reconciles his dual roles at Hudson - as Asia Pacific CIO and also the company's chief financial officer for A/NZ.
Organisationals across the globe have been split on whether chief information officers should report to the chief financial officer, or directly to the chief executive officer.
A Deloitte survey last month warned of the challenges of the former organisational structure.
At Hudson, Leigh is both chief information and chief financial officer for the region -- a dual role that "works well", he said.
"I come from somewhat of a technology background. I had nine years at Microsoft before working at Hudson [so I] know enough to get around," Leigh said.
He didn't see major challenges in reconciling the two sets of responsibilities, believing instead that the close ties with finance would benefit IT projects.
"If you have a CFO that's accountable for IT, then I think they're probably more open to discussions around improving things like the user experience where there may not be a financial [return on investment] but certainly there's a productivity or overall employee engagement benefit," Leigh said.
"Given ultimately all of the issues will ultimately roll up to me, I'm equally passionate as my team to resolving them."
The dual CIO-CFO role is perhaps not the only unusual aspect of the IT workings of Hudson.
Although the recruiter has a global CIO, much of the responsibility for IT strategy is decentralised and not necessarily just cascaded directives from corporate HQ.
Leigh said up to 80 percent of IT strategy was left "in-country".
"We obviously have to align with global strategies in terms of core technologies we put into the company," he said.
"But Hudson's maybe a little different to many US multinationals where I think there is a little bit more decision-making in our regions."